Today would have been my Pep's birthday.
When I was young, before the time of friend parties, we shared a couple of birthdays together (mine is November 2nd) and I still have the image of the two of us blowing out candles together burned in my brain.
He was a great man.
Pep, in your honor, I want to write down some of the things you passed on- the things you contributed to my life which will live on forever in my memory.
--You made the best toast ever. I never figured out what made your toast so special. I remember sitting at the kitchen table at the house on Stark Street in the early morning with Nicky by my side, studying you making toast. I was trying to figure out what you did to make it so good, but you only toasted and spread the butter. It remains a mystery.
--Your special touch went beyond just toast. You also made the best baked beans ever. Nobody makes them better, not even Nana with your recipe (sorry Nan!) so you must have had some secret ingredient that you never revealed. I got so spoiled on your beans that I have barely eaten them since you passed. It's just not the same.
--We could always count on you to make us laugh with a tickle or a pony-boy ride on your knee. Whenever I bounce Illy on my knee like that, I think of you.
--You always rose early, with the birds. I remember when us grandkids used to spend the night, we would bet we could wake up before you and Nana in the morning, and we NEVER did. I don't think even once. I certainly didn't get THAT from you, because I absolutely hate waking early.
--Your SNORE! I don't know if you would want this broadcast for the world to read, but if there was a best-snorer contest, you would win, HANDS DOWN! I remember you'd fall asleep on the floor while watching TV with us (pretty early, too, since you always woke up so early in the morning) and we'd be trying to watch but could never hear over your sniffle and roar noises. You were also pretty hard to wake up, and even when Nana was successful at waking you, you'd deny you fell asleep. As if we hadn't just been listening to you snore for the past (however many) minutes. :D I never thought I would MISS a snore. But I do.
--You would always open the pool up early for us. We were chomping at the bit to swim as soon as we could without getting hypothermia, and you would oblige and uncover the pool, switch on the filter and get it all ready for us before it was even really summertime.
--My love of camping came from you and Nana. I don't know if we ever went tent camping, which is what I prefer now, but Kings and Queens is where my love of camping started. I remember late nights up with you and Nan playing Uno... Bingo games in the big building next to the pool... And many, many trips down the big yellow waterslide. I remember walking to the craft hut with you and buying italian ices at the store with "my money" (that you gave us, of course)... I remember one year going with you, Nana and Nicky alone and feeling so cool, so grown-up because you would let us go to the playground alone. I remember you helping us search for marshmallow-toasting sticks in the brush, and building fires together... And I remember one particular ride where we drove poor Nana up a wall singing "99 bottles of beer on the wall" for about an hour on the way up there. Good times, Pep, good times.
--I remember listening to your "adult" conversations at Thanksgiving through the vents in the floors in your house, thinking we were going to hit the jackpot and glean some adults-only info from you all, when we hardly understood what was being said- and of course it was never anything we really shouldn't hear. We just felt cool spying. I remember you looking up at the vent and seeing us there, knowing we were listening, and us running away giggling and pretending we hadn't been. I remember you didn't tell.
--I remember the way you always treated Nana with love and respect. I am still awed by the fact that I never heard you two argue (at least I don't recall it) and I know that you loved her more than anything in the world. I'm so glad for it, because we all need examples of true true love in our lives.
--I remember your faded tattoos from the military. They were all green. I wondered where they came from, and what they stood for. I was always intrigued by them... And now I still love tattoos. Nana, Nicky, Auntie Lisa and I have been saying for years that we should all go get a tattoo together. Dad wasn't too keen on the idea, but Nana said she gets to override him since she's his Mom. I think maybe we should all get one that symbolizes our family...
--I remember you always watching "Wheel of Fortune". I used to think it was an old-people's show, but now I watch it. Almost every night. I'm sure Illy will think it's an "old-people's show" when she gets to be a little older, too. But she'll watch it with me anyway.
--I remember playing Yahtzee, drinking V-8 and doing puzzles together. I remember playing Memory. A lot of the games I like I learned from you.
--I remember riding bikes in your driveway, and you moving the cars so we could. I remember you cheering us on as we rode, and working in your garage so you could keep an eye on us. I remember the sparkle your smile had, and how you always had one ready for me.
I don't ever remember you being mad at me.
Thank you for being the best grandfather a person could ask for, for giving us a safe place to rest our heads and play without worrying, for teaching me games and making me food and smiling and laughing and making me laugh. I won't ever forget.