If you looked up grandfather in the 1991 Encyclopedia Brittannicas (for you young folks Encyclopedia Brittannica is google’s grandfather) you will not find a picture of the old man, he wouldn’t allow it, but what you will find is a story of a father, grandfather, great grandfather, teacher, role model and friend. A story that, like The Boy Who Cried Wolfgang has had so many false endings it’s almost hard to believe he’s not tricking us right now.
The story for me starts more than 28 years ago. My first memory of my grandfather is of him painting the walls of my bedroom when I was 5 years old in our new home, just across the street from him and grandma. There are memories of him behind the deli counter slipping me pieces of bologna. There are memories of him being baffled when Gabriella and I managed to break two of the then glass windows on the garage doors at the same time.
When I would ‘runaway’ from home Grandma would welcome me with open arms, a fried egg sandwich, and Guiding Light. Grandpa would put me to work. Mowing the lawn, cleaning the pool, delivering fish fries to Mrs G, reorganizing the attic, and other odds and ends.
He taught me though that with hard work came rewards. He paid me a fifty cent piece for taking out the trash and when Albany started recycling I got a raise to silver dollars. Years later after he taught me how to parallel park on Edgecomb, I used many of those silver dollars to buy my first car from him.
He taught me how to use tools to build and repair things. We built a soapbox derby car or two in the basement during my short stint as a boy scout. We never had the fastest cars, but I often won best design. The toolbox in my apartment (a gift from him) doesn’t get used often but I know how to use everything in it without the help of a YouTube video thanks to Grandpa.
One of the most important things he taught me was that you could mature without ever having to really grow up. When I lived on the other side of the world in Australia, he mailed me a package that included a rubber ball and paddle, a balsa wood airplane, and a pinwheel, which 6 years later sits on my bookshelf in Brooklyn. The toys in his house were just as much for him as they were for the dozens of kids that came in and out.
His sense of humor was unrivaled. In good times and in bad you could always count on Grandpa to lighten the mood when it was warranted. At the wake for my great grandfather Eddie, a gentleman from the fire department where Eddie volunteered was saying a prayer. When he spoke his voice sounded like a cartoon character and several of the cousins and I started snickering. Grandpa came right up behind us and told is to cut it out. He then pointed out how much the fireman sounded like Kermit the Frog, which got us laughing all over again.
He taught us all respect and manners. Rules included you always wear your shirt at the dinner table, you never run in the pool area, and later on that you always get grandma’s ice cream ready before your own. And you better not forget the chocolate syrup or her Lorna Doones.
When Grandpa was born 85 years ago he not only broke the scales, but he broke the mold. He started a family with Grandma that currently stretches around the globe. He was Grandpa Wolfgang and Dad to many more than just those of us who were raised in this family. He has touched the lives of many and his tremendous presence isn’t one we will soon forget.
So tonight let’s share some ring bologna, let’s toss back some M&Ms, and if we listen close enough you can probably hear him yelling at St Peter to close the pearly gates behind him and to make sure to lock them up if there are any little kids around.