i was really lucky to have some pretty awesome grandparents. and lucky to have them for as long as i did. i had pop and mommy marge (my mom’s mom) until i was 34 years old. gram died in 1993, the day after my 31st birthday.
gram and pop built the house in westfield that my brother thomas lives in today. westfield wasn’t far from martinsville where i grew up so we got to see them alot. they came over every sunday and we went there for most holidays. they were great grandparents. they always had stuff for us. pop collected old coins. we used to check every penny we came across during the week to see if it was an old one. you knew it was old when it had a 2 blades of wheat surrounding the words ‘one cent’. we called them “one cent” pennies. every sunday when gram and pop came to the house we would run to greet them – pennies in hand. we were so excited to give pop our pennies – not so much for the nickel he would give us in return, but because we thought it made him really happy. we continued collecting pennies for pop until he died.
pop passed away on december 6, 1996. the last time i saw him was thanskgiving about 2 weeks earlier and in between i had found a ‘one cent’ penny that i planned on giving to him but never had the chance. i brought it to his wake and placed it in the casket with him. i served as a paul bearer and helped my 3 brothers and 2 cousins carry pop from the church. after the funeral service i was reliving memories of pop with my brothers and my cousins. as it turns they too brought their ‘one cent’ pennies and sent them off to the after life in the casket with pop. i think it was thomas who said, “dam – that’s why the casket was so heavy!”
now pop sends me ‘one cent’ pennies from heaven. all i have to do is ask.
gram always wanted to make sure everybody had enough to eat. she was usually wearing an apron. dad said when he was young he would come home after school and gram would make him so many sandwiches that he put the first one in his hand and then line them all the way up his arm to carry them all up to his room. gram & pop had a summer house on lake lackawana in nj. we went there often in the summertime to stay with them. we had a big red fish on a string that we would take into the water and play with and we had a canoe and a motorboat at the lake. pop spent the days cutting the grass and feeding coal into the stove in the basement so we would have hot water. gram spent most of the days in the kitchen cooking and cleaning. she prepared every meal for every person everyday. by the time she was done cleaning up after one meal, it was time to start preparing the next. she also managed to do everybody’s laundry inbetween meals. and she ironed everything. she ironed pillow cases hankerchiefs and underwear. gram was kind of like a living saint. she never spoke bad about anyone and she never, ever, said a swear word. not even ‘hell’. you could tell her the most horrible story and her response would be “oh my land” or, “for land’s sake!” (whatever that means. . .) “glory be” was another one of my favorites. gram never owned a pair of pants. she wore dresses every single day. she never owned a pair of pantyhose either. she wore real stockings, earrings and beads or a pin every day of her life and she always had a small hankerchief tucked somewhere in her outfit in case she needed to wipe her brow.
gram always gave us money. she would sneak it to each of us individually on her sunday visits to our house; a quarter, fifty cents or even a dollar. by the time i got to college she would often send me five dollars! i used to check my mail every day, hoping for a letter from gram. in addition to the money, with every letter she included several stamps. i was sure to write her back immediately so that she would do the same. i still have the letters.
we called my mom’s mother ‘mommy marge’. mommy marge was way to hip to call grandma. she had it going on til the very end – taking yoga classes, meeting her friends at the beach everyday in the summer and travelling. we didn’t see her as often as we saw gram & pop when we were young because she lived in ct. we would visit her several times a year when she lived at 33 spruce street – the house where my mom grew up, and once in a while she would come to nj and stay with us for a couple of days. by the time i got to college she had moved into a little house in fairfield, just 2 blocks down from the beach. all of my friends knew mommy marge and they all loved her. my college friends & i would invade her orderly little home for weekend get-aways at the beach. she loved the company and had no problem letting us come & go as we pleased. she never cared how many people i brought to crash at her house and she seemed to love them all. she had a special affection for debbie who was my college roommate. i remember once returning to my apartment in hartford to find debbie on the phone with my grandmother. . . just chatting. my friends and i knew all of her friends at the beach; maude & barbara especially. after the beach we would hang out with her in the living room and take turns showering for a night out. she loved it when we took her out to dinner with us. as she got ready for bed, we would head out to the sea grape or some other college type bar. there was no curfew and she always looked forward to the stories of our escapades the next morning.
she never worried if you had enough to eat and never cooked for us. she’d be more likely to say something like “you probably shouldn’t eat too much if you’re going to be drinking tonight – you don’t want to ruin your shape.” she could never understand why we would choose to waste calories on beer but never hasseled us about it. you could tell her anything – and sometimes much to my horror, my college buddies did . . .
i remember one time she came with my mother up to hartford to visit me (and debbie) at college. we had an L shaped studio we shared. the only decorations we could afford at the time were plants and we had quite a few of them. when mommy marge came in she took a look around and asked which ones were the “pot” plants! with a mortified look on her face, my mother said, “mo – - m! what are you talking about?” to which mommy marge replied, “what?? they’re in college . . . of course they have pot!” then she asked again because she had never seen pot plants before and wanted to know what they looked like.
after college i stayed in ct for 2 more years living not to far away in new haven, ct so i was able to see her regularly. when i moved to new york, my sales job included fairfield county as part of my territory and i would stop in as often as i could for a visit even if it was only for 20 minutes. she was always interested in who i was dating and what my friends were up to these days – i think she missed them.
mommy marge died just a couple weeks after pop, on December 18th 1996 – right before christmas, which is also my mother’s birthday. i was in florida where i spent approximately one week each month for work. this trip i had decided to stay for a few days off. mommy marge was sick & in the hospital and we had just buried pop. i wanted to be by myself on the beach and take som much needed time away from my job as a sales manager. no phones, no computer, just relax. i knew the entire hotel staff by name as this is where i stayed for one week almost every month in southbeach. i woke up on the morning of the 18th and headed for the beach around 10:00. i set up my chair and sat down reflecting on the ocean. mommy marge loved the ocean. i was here and she was in the hospital with cancer. the thought occured to me that she may never see the ocean again. that was followed by a spontaneous thought that this was untrue – from now on, that’s all she would see. at about 10:30, i packed up my things and headed back across the street to the breakwater hotel. as i passed the front desk headed for my room, the manager said, “Laurie, your father called.”
i knew why.
pop-pop joe was my mom’s father. i didn’t know him very well because he died when i was only in third or fourth grade. my memories of him include donuts. he always brought us donuts when we saw him and he was always happy. pop-pop joe was a big man and a huge golfer. apparently he was quite the athlete in his younger years and attended prep school on both a baseball and football scholarship. he was a scratch golfer – runner up for ct state champ – i suppose that’s where mom gets it from.
here he is in the old days :