My grandfather passed away on August 17. Before driving with my wife and my dad to the funeral on August 22, I asked my aunt if I could read a speech. The wake came, and I didn’t feel comfortable reading the speech. Then the mass came, and I had to stick to the traditional biblical reading. Then the repast came, and my aunt finally encouraged me to at least give a toast, which was basically a brief version of what follows.
I am one of Grandpa’s four grandchildren, and I felt compelled to say a few words about him.
Grandpa was hard of hearing for most of his life. He started having hearing troubles at age three, and it only worsened as he aged. Because of this, I think, he was a generally quiet and reserved man. I think he enjoyed the everyday chatter of life, but years of having trouble holding a typical conversation taught him to only pay attention when he had to, or when people spoke loudly enough for him to understand. So when he spoke up, you listened.
At least, I did. He would sit with us at the table and just stay quiet four hours, sometimes. But every now and then, unprompted, he would start talking about something from his past. His mother, his cousins, his friends from Brooklyn, or maybe one of the numerous jobs he worked.
You could tell by the way he spoke about people and places that he was naturally curious about the world around him. I always wondered if that was innate, or if he learned to be observant because that was how he could most easily engage with the world. Maybe both.
When my sister, our two cousins, and I were younger, he seemed to love nothing more than to spend time with us. We would stroll up and down the boardwalk in Cape May on lovely summer nights, and he never hesitated to pay for dinner, buy us ice cream, or give us a $20 to go play the arcade for a bit. He was happy to buy us gifts from the shops, even when our parents said no. We might have taken advantage of that kindness a time or two, but it didn’t seem to bother him.
He also crafted plenty of gifts for us in his basement workshop. After working as a machinist well into his seventies, he finally retired when my grandmother became sick. After she passed, he dove headfirst into his woodworking hobby. I think we all have several decorations or pieces of furniture that he made.
No matter how beautiful the pieces were, Grandpa never believed they came out right. “Ah, it’s too short,” he’d say, or “I couldn’t get this piece here right.”
But more than anything, I think he just enjoyed sitting around the dinner table or a good card game with us. He would just watch us talk, laugh, and grow together — enjoying each other’s company as a family. The rarer times we saw him laugh — and I mean really laugh — he’d lean back in his chair, lay his hands on his belly, and shake until his face burned red.
And if we were lucky, he’d surprise us with a witty line or a story, like a fleeting memory that nearly passed over him.
Grandpa was always one of my biggest role models, and I’ve thought recently about what that has meant to me, what it will mean to me.
So these are the lessons I will try to carry forward, in tribute to Grandpa, as we grow our family:
Speak and act thoughtfully. Others will value your words and your heart all the more.
Give generously, even if it’s just to put a smile on someone else’s face.
Work diligently and be proud of your accomplishments, even when your creations didn’t quite meet your own expectations.
Make time for those you love. Be present in those moments, and cherish them.
He was 96 years old, and his second and third cousins still referred to him as Brother Ralph. I love you, Grandpa.
July 8, 1922 – August 17, 2018