October 17, 1949 – August 29, 2011
There once was a boy from North Braddock, PA. John and Rose’s son. Gene, Eddie, Raymond, Jerry and Joanne’s brother.
Jerri’s husband. Mine and Steve’s dad.
Marilynn’s brother in law (yes my Mom went ahead and married him even after he locked her sister out of the house on the night the first man landed on the moon).
Maggie and Trevor’s Pap-Pap. I think out of all his names, Pap-Pap was his favorite.
He slept through school. Smoked by the railroad tracks He pushed his brothers off of telephone poles, out of cars and they paid him back by shooting him full of arrows. He cleaned spittoons as a part time job and drove just about every car ever made prior to 1971.
He looked like James Dean and had the heart of a cowboy.
One day that boy joined the Navy and flew the coop. He was a bronco rider in Bakersfield, CA . He went to Vietnam twice. He went to radio school and began what would be a 30 year career with the CIA. He married Jerri on August 30, 1969, gave her a honeymoon out of a pizza box and then whisked her off to England. And their life began. First came me and then came my brother.
He gave us quite literally….. the world and he taught us so much:
We learned how to swim using the ancient “throw your kids in the lake method”. He taught us to ride horses in the Sahara desert (with an occasional camel thrown in to make sure we were paying attention) We had bus stops by the Nile. He grew the biggest patch of Silver Queen sweet corn in all of Lusaka, Zambia and taught us to eat tomatoes straight off of the vine. He taught us to take pride in our smallest successes. Like the time Mum sweated and slaved for weeks to cook the largest Thanksgiving meal ever seen in Central Africa. And he made the tiniest bowl of pickles and proceeded to brag about those pickles, and only those pickles, for the next 30 years.
He broke up fights between my brother and I reminding us how we were supposed to love each other (Did I mention how HE used to push his brother off of telephone poles and all I did was knock mine upside the head with a stuffed animal)
He cheered me on at track meets. He and my brother practiced extravagant experiments in patience doing Father / son projects.
We were raised on John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Star Wars and Bruce Willis. And love. So so much love.
I remember him holding hands with Mum no matter where we went and he never left the house without kissing her goodbye. He created family fun time such as “ Let’s go dig a drainage ditch in the backyard in the pouring rain to keep the basement from flooding” You haven’t seen fun till you’ve seen a group of Polish-Irish-Italian family swinging pick axes and shovels in the middle of a thunderstorm.
And the time came when he brought us back across the pond to a sleepy little town in Virginia and home was still home because he and my Mom were there. We grew up, moved out, moved away and learned very quickly that while we were responsible for many grey hairs, our children could do absolutely no wrong.
He taught Maggie how to fish. How to eat Oreos the right way. He was famous for his Pap-Pap tea when sore throats needed soothing. He was an instant Mary Poppins, but with a very scratchy beard, when I had to travel out of town for work.
He and Trevor shared the same haircut. One of Trevor’s first words was “Pap-Pap” and he was the very best medicine my Dad could have had. Trevor will know his Pap-Pap through the “Trevor list” Maggie is writing for him… a list of all the important things her Pap-Pap taught her and she will teach to Trevor. We’re all waiting to see if he can master Dad’s “pull my finger” trick before he turns 2.
He was smart, gentle, tough, funny, strong, firm, giving, and oh so stubborn.
He’s still here. In this room. I see him in the gold band around my Mother’s finger. I see him in my daughter’s uncanny sense of direction (just like my Dad). I see him in my brother when he’s playing with his son. I see him when old and dear friends gather round to share good food, good stories and the kind of laughter that has you worrying you might pee your pants.
My dad lived wide and he loved big. And he left us quietly, knowing he was loved beyond measure.
Daddy, I hope Heaven has a 24 hour John Wayne channel (please remember Heaven expects you to share the remote control) and I hope tonight, and forever, angels sleep on your pillow.