24 August is my paternal grandpap’s 7th Jahrzeit (death anniversary). That’s us on his 64th birthday, 2 October 1984. He had the same birthday as Groucho Marx (and I almost had the same Jahrzeit as Groucho). He lived to 84, and in spite of never having gone to college (I’m not sure he even finished high school either), he had a very sharp mind and was smart in his own way.
In Southwestern Pennsylvania, we say grandpap instead of grandpa or grandfather. I was in my twenties when I finally found out that that’s a regionalism (also used in West Virginia), and that a lot of people might think you’re a hick if they hear or see you using that word. I don’t care what they think of me. It’s one thing to turn an accent on and off depending on your audience (e.g., I’d never pronounce creek as “crick” in the presence of distinguished people), but you can’t shake certain words and phrases you’ve been brought up with. There are some Pittsburghese turns of phrase that are just a part of how I speak and write, like saying “The plants need watered” and “Where is he at?”
My grandpap was a veteran of two wars, the European Theatre in WWII and the Korean War. He was a proud member of the Latrobe branches of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. He also served in the CCC during the Depression. Every day, he would put up his flag. Though in spite of being a very proud vet, he was completely against the forays into Afghanistan and Iraq. My grandpap was a true blue Democrat, though socially he had some more conservative views, given what generation he was from.
He loved reading and watching Westerns, classic comedy, crossword puzzles, hunting, and all the Pittsburgh sports teams—the Steelers, the Pirates, and the Penguins. It’s such a Pittsburgh thing to be into the city’s teams, and in the surrounding areas. I myself only give a damn about football if the Steelers are playing. He’d often curse at our teams if they messed up or did something stupid. Frequently he’d cuss at them in Slovakian, his native language.
He was born in America, but didn’t speak any English till he was eight. His mother temporarily lost her citizenship when she married his dad, even though she too was born in America. Thank God that sexist law has long since changed! His branch of the family tree is completely Slovakian, though I’ve long had reason to suspect there might be some Serbian mixed in there. His dad is on the Wall of Honor at Ellis Island, and is my only great-grandparent who wasn’t born in America. My family’s been here a long time.
My grandpap was the only one who understood my love of Laurel and Hardy. That was the only bright light I had during those nightmarish 10 months when my family was living with my paternal grandparents and our lives had been so disrupted. No one else understood why I watched them religiously (back when AMC still showed actual classic films) and laughed so hard, but he told me that when he was a boy, he’d go to see the Three Stooges and be laughing before he even got to the theatre.
When I was 11, he got me back onto the Tilt-a-Whirl, which has been my favoritest ride ever since. I’d had a bad experience with it when I was 7, and swore I’d never get back on. But he told me a trick, to sort of squish yourself into a corner. When you’re not in the center of the car, you’re not having the strongest G-forces pulling on you and causing motion sickness.
The last time I saw him alive, a few weeks before he died, the last words I ever said to him were, “Next time I come here, I’ll have a husband.” I was 25, and he joked that if I didn’t have a boyfriend soon, he’d have to be my boyfriend. I take that promise very seriously, and God willing will someday be able to visit his grave with a husband. Perhaps Samuel, when he finally exists and isn’t just a dream, will take after the Slovakian branch of our family.
This is my grandpap as a young soldier in England in the Forties: