There’s not a person in this world who knows me who could deny the love I had for my Pop-Pop.
To speak his name made me smile.
And everything I did, when it came to him, was done in an effort to make him happy.
He was a selfless man who found joy in his family and in the time he got to spend with them—whether it be at holiday functions, birthday parties, picnics, or anniversary celebrations.
He was happy just sitting on the sidelines, quietly taking it all in, and rarely ever offered an opinion on anything.
Pop-Pop was our anchor and our safety net who kept our family steady, held us together in times when we were all going astray, and loved each and every one of us unconditionally—even at times when it was almost impossible.
To reciprocate all that he had done for our family, I wanted to protect him, watch over him, and ensure his continued happiness as he aged. It became my mission even more so after the passing of my grandmother. And by fulfilling that mission, I was happy too.
My Pop-Pop taught me many valuable lessons in life, however, one of my most memorable occurred back in August of 1984. Our family was spending time at the Jersey shore’s Long Beach Island, in the town of Harvey Cedars.
As always, my Pop-Pop and I had plans to go fishing and crabbing in the bay. I was so excited this time. It was extra special. We were going out in a rowboat instead of sitting on a pier.
For a twelve-year-old little girl, crabbing and fishing in a rowboat for the first time was huge! I couldn’t wait to paddle around the channel to catch crabs for what we hoped to be a delicious supper.
As he started to row us out a bit from the dock, he started to go over his directions for a successful crabbing mission:
“Okay, Lydia, first thing: the bait must be securely attached.”
“Yup, Pop-Pop, it’s fastened tight at the bottom of the trap,” I said, double-checking the trap.
“You are going to have to sit still while the crab trap sits on the floor of the channel and wait. We can’t rock the boat,” he directed.
“Got it,” I said with confidence.
“Remember, Lydia, we are going to have to be patient,” realizing just exactly who he was speaking to.
“Yes, yes. Got it,” I said, excitement building, as I was waiting to cast the trap.
“And most importantly—you have to hold the line.”
“Okay,” I said quickly.
“No, you have to hold the line. You can’t let it go. You have to hold it tight.”
“Okay, Pop-Pop, I will.”
“No, Lydia, you have to hold the line. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Pop-Pop, yes. I am ready.”
He handed me the trap with the white nylon string attached. The string was rolled into a ball that I held tightly in my hand. I could feel the crunchy material of the nylon digging into my palm as I squeezed it hard, trying to force it to meld to my skin so as not to disappoint my Pop-Pop.
I carefully stood up in the rowboat, got my footing, and began to wind up my arm as if I was going to throw a fastball in a baseball game. In my head, I counted 1-2-3 as I spun that trap around, and suddenly, I threw that trap as hard as I could.
What I didn’t realize is that with such a forceful throw, I lost grip of the rope.
As soon as I realized it, I looked at my Pop-Pop, wide-eyed, bewildered, and not fully understanding the consequences of my actions until I saw the ball of white string being pulled down by the weight of the trap. We both watched silently as the string slowly sank beneath the cloudy brown bay water until we finally lost complete sight of it.
“Now!” he yelled, “Damn it!”
For the first time in my life, he looked at me with frustration in his eyes “I told you to hold the line, didn’t I?”
“Yes, Pop-Pop. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” I pleaded.
“Why did you let it go?” he questioned, confused, believing he was thorough in his directions.
“I don’t know, I don’t know. I’m so sorry, Pop-Pop,” I said in all honesty.
Looking back (and now possessing 38 years of life experience), I suppose the excitement got the best of me, but honestly, I wouldn’t change it for anything.
That morning, my Pop-Pop and I rowed around that bay water quietly, in one another’s company, for what seemed hours trying to find that trap—but we never did.
His frustration with me that morning quickly dissipated. He was never one to hold a grudge, and I suppose we both bonded again over our mutual mourning of the crab dinner we expected to eat that night.
You know, every year during the holidays, while sipping our wine and puffing on our cigars, we would recount that story and laugh and laugh. That was my Pop-Pop, my fishing pal, my crabbing captain—my human compass in life.
I am sharing this story with you today to pay tribute to that great man I called Pop-Pop in honor of Grandparent’s Day which recently passed. I originally shared this story as part of my Pop-Pop’s eulogy, but felt it’s just as fitting to share today in honor of Grandparent’s Day.
Working through my grief was extremely difficult, and there were times I would burst into tears when the realization would hit me again that he was gone. Almost three years later, and I still feel the loss of this instrumental man in my life. My heart broke into millions of pieces when I received the call that Sunday morning telling me he was gone.
I stood in my home in disbelief, just as I sat in that boat and watched the white ball of string slowly disappear in the cloudy bay water. I watched future plans of summer picnics, cigars, and wine, and Pop-Pop’s smiles slipping away.
I wasn’t ready. I wanted to cling to him just as I was supposed to cling to that ball of white rope. The pain I felt inside was almost indescribable. I wondered how I was going to be happy without him here. Emotions were circling around in my head just as my arm circled, preparing to throw a fastball that August morning.
I was not ready for my Pop-Pop to depart this earth. I was not ready to say goodbye. I yearned for more opportunities to make him smile: to keep baking him goodies, to keep him sitting with me and smoking our cigars. But then that Tuesday afternoon after his passing, I wrote this and it hit me. I was living to make him happy, especially after my Gram had passed.
As I said earlier, as he aged and became more fragile, all I wanted to do was protect, comfort, and make him happy. In my mourning, a forceful wave washed over me and helped me to finally realize it was time to disregard the direction I followed from him as a twelve-year-old girl.
l needed to stop holding so tightly to the line tying me to him and prepare to let him go, as scary as it was.
In doing so, I was able to find comfort in the knowledge that this time he is eternally happy and that when we finally meet again, he will not look at me with frustration for doing so, but rather look at me with love and gratitude.
Pop-Pop, I will love you forever. You were like a father to me—always kind, never judging—and I will never forget you and all of our times together. I find comfort and peace in my belief that you’ve claimed your eternal happiness with Grammy.
This September 12th, which was not only my 50th birthday but also Grandparent’s Day, I started my morning off watching the sunrise over the Cape Fear River.
After looking at the pictures I saw an aura, and in my heart, I knew it was you watching the sunrise with me and living vicariously through the fishermen on the pier.
Happy Grandparent’s Day, Pop-Pop. I love you and always will.