Throwback Thursday: I Remember Papa


Today would be my maternal grandfather’s 108th birthday, so for Throwback Thursday, I’m posting a photograph of him as a child. I do not have a date, but this was his First Holy Communion photo, so it’s probably early in the 1920s.

My grandfather was born in 1914, the son of Italian immigrants. When he wanted to leave school at age 13, his mother said he could, but only if he got a job and turned over his paychecks to her. He found a job sorting nuts and bolts in a factory.

A few years later, he was ready to leave home and support himself. He had always vowed he would never work in the coal mines, though most of the Italian men in his Pennsylvania town did just that. After being unable to find any other paying work, he resigned himself to being a miner and got himself hired. While walking to work on his first day, he saw a man with a broken-down truck and offered to help fix it. Even in his youth, my grandfather was a genius with any kind of machinery. He fixed the truck within minutes, and its owner offered him a job. He never had to work in the mines, and he was a mechanic — and later, the owner of a truck service — for the rest of his working life.

Papa was a character. He had an exuberance that drew people to him, despite having strong opinions, often uninformed ones, that he did not mind expressing. He often told really dumb jokes, but his delivery made them funny. He had no trust in government or institutions, but plenty of trust in people. That optimism sometimes led him into bad business deals, often enough so that my grandmother separated her own money from his and would not let him invest hers, even at a time when women were not supposed to have their own money. He didn’t always follow her advice, but he adored her.

He had a soft spot for kids and for sweets, and he loved taking us to the candy store or the ice cream parlor — no parents allowed. When my own son was growing up, my father lived too far away, and my father-in-law had already passed away. So Papa, my son’s great-grandfather, was the nearest grandfather he had. They were close, and I’ve always been grateful that Papa lived long enough for my son to know and remember him. He passed away in 2009, at the age of 94.

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