He was like a guardian unto me. His grey fedora the rim of my world, smiling down all around me, bobbing up down on his fat knees. He was a dancer actually, and quite a good one at that too. He was funny, and I remember him making people laugh at parties. His smile, what can I say, broad rimmed spectacles, a round Italian face, hearty and wholesome like the happy Buddha - except they were strictly Catholic of course, and the niggers well don't even mention those. Even the greatest of saints have their ordinary human tarnish.
I honestly don't know exactly what he did for a living. I imagine him, out of the recesses of my mind, working in his garage in Warrington, PA selling business stationary supplies, because I think I recall my dad saying he did that. I see him making bottles of whiskey, gambling, respectably of course, and eating good pasta with tender slices of veal cutlet. Isn't it peculiar how little we actually know of our dearest loved ones - those people that reach in with cotton balls and saturate our insides without doing anything special at all. Why are these people the strangers in our lives? I know more about my neighbor than I do about James Tenaglia. But I also know no one knows me like my grandpa.
I was actually the last one of the family to be with him before he died. Of course grandma was with him though. They went out dancing the night he died 40's style as they always did on Saturday evenings. I mean seriously dancing is the way to do life! He took me to the mall that afternoon. I remember the bright lights gleaming off the huge shiny tiles on the waxed floor all the way down the corridor almost like a mathematical mirror or the skeleton of a universe (but nothing is ever that symmetrical, that easy in life).
I loved my grandpa more than anyone in the world, and I know at this moment he loves me too. I was only seven years old that day at Montgomery Mall. He bought me a slice of pizza from Sbarros. I played with his hat and probably kicked him in the belly a few times accidentally. A big belly carries comfort for a child; comfort, joy, security, there-ness. My brother wasn't there with us that day though. He was just three years old then.
Grandpa dropped me of at the backdoor of my house. I know he watched me leave him, sitting in his car, idling behind me in the driveway, watching me, smiling me, taking me as I walked up our back steps and into the house where I lived. Of course he saw me turn around all smiles and curly blonde hair as I gave him one last mighty wave goodbye that only kids know how to do. I am sure that wave, that smile, carried him all the way down Route 611 back to Warrington where he took a shower, got dressed up, put on strong after-shave so he could justify kissing his wife in public, and then off to the ballroom to dance the night away.
I never asked grandma what song was playing when he had the heart attack in her arms. I don't know if he was in pain when it happened. I don't even know if grandpas can feel pain, even in death. I do know that grandma was never the same again; that from then on, the furniture always had plastic wrapped around it like it was a sandwich I would bring to school for lunch. I don't know if he died immediately or if he writhed and buckled on the cold dance floor. What do people think when they are dying? Or do they stop thinking all together and realize instead this is the end, and in the end they begin to see things more as they are. See the lights shining in their eyes, the people hanging overhead, the voices muffled and farther away than usual. The knowing that I am gone and I know this is ok and I know you pain for me and I still know this is ok. I can't speak to you to tell you this my dear, but I look at you in hopes that you see it on my vacant face. A man was once here for you, once loved you, traveled at age 7 across the Atlantic and found you after discovering the grime off Staten Island. I am here now. Gone yes, I know, but it's ok; I am here now still, and I'm sorry it's this way, but I love you dear I love you I