"A Grandfather’s Gift"
Today would have been my grandfathers 78th Birthday, and this is for him...
My grandfather was many things…a friend, a son, a father, and a husband, but most importantly, he was a plumber. People would often ask for him by name. When you had a problem with your pipes in South Philly, you called Bobby Gledhill. Little Old Italian women worshiped the copper piping he installed and to the boys who had problems he was a father, doing what any good father would do, put his son to work. “Dig that ditch,” he would often yell, “and step on it.” No one dared not listen to Mr. Gledhill, because he would tell your mother, and trust me when I say my grandfather was many things, but quiet was not one of them. He would yell and scream, especially when he would drive. The passersby would rue the day they made Robert William Gledhill Sr. bellow in his best impression of a sailor, “goddammit,” or, “son of a bitch.”
He would often go to Board of Director meetings for the Plumbing Contractors and stand up for anything he thought was unfair. Grandpop was the man you loved to hate and hated to love. When he was at those meetings, he would scream, banging his fist on his palm in order to get his point across, while the rest of the men would try to interrupt. Nevertheless, if grandpop did not say his piece you would never get a word in edgewise, and if you let him speak, then said what was on your mind. Then he would often go back, think about it, and a day later would do whatever it was your way. That was Grandpop for you, always loud and always fair.
Nevertheless, he had a softer side as well. When someone could not pay him, he used the trade system. My grandmother explained that he used to come home with different types of food as payment, and if they did not have food or money, he worked out a system where the people would pay him a little at a time. Besides, when I knew him he was much calmer. Not in the car of course, but calmer regardless. From the minute I was born, I was his and he was mine. He dubbed me his, “little girl,” or my personal favorite, “Schmitty.”
“You don’t look like a Del Guercio,” he replied, one day when I asked him why. “You’re too cute to be one.” Even at a young age, I felt it was more than that. He had known from the beginning that I was his and only his, so he needed to give me a name. As if, I were a dog, and he my companion. I have no qualms about anything that I remember of him no memory is more vivid than the next, but the ones I do have live within and sometimes come out at the most inappropriate times.
Once I was reading Little Miss Muffet to a class of kindergartners, harmless you might think, and you would be wrong. When I was two, I remember it so vividly it is as if it happened now, my grandfather taught me limericks and not just any, dirty ones. He used to put me up on a literal pedestal and have me recite them.
“Laura,” he would say, in front of an entire plumbing convention, “do ‘Little Miss Muffet.’” A commanding, unknowing audience would cheer and I would recite, “Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey. Along came a spider, and sat down beside her, and said ‘what's in the bowl bitch?’” Everyone would laugh and my grandfather would puff out his chest beaming with joy.
“My granddaughter gentleman,” he would raise me to his shoulders, “that's my granddaughter.”
When this particular incident ran through my head in front of the little ones, I was so embarrassed I blushed and had to excuse myself from the room so I could compose myself. Once safely away from them, I began to laugh so hard, I could not breathe. All that was running through my head was that stupid twisted nursery rhyme, and it took me a full ten minutes to compose myself.
Never in my entire time on this earth have I ever met a man that could compare to him. Grandpop could always find the good in people, but once it had escaped him. When my aunt married a man far beneath her, it broke his heart that he could not find one ounce, one shred, of good in him. This coming from a man who helped old women change their tires, this from a man who helped a boy pay his way through medical school so he could become a doctor, this coming from a man so loving and caring that his heart stopped because of it. He, of all people, could not find any good in the man who stole his youngest heart; it devastated him. Later, it turned out that there was no good to find, but that is a different story.
My grandfather was a character. He sang to me when I was four each morning on the way to school, a chorus of, “Laura Marie, my Laura Marie.” Then a year later, he would pick me up off the bus, because I had fallen asleep. This was because I was the first to be picked up and the last to be dropped off.
“Hi Bob,” I would hear the bus driver say, through my sleep clogged ears.
“Hey Bill,” Grandpop replied, always gruff but never stern, “she back there?”
“Yeah,” the driver would wave him on and he would walk to where I situated myself, pick me up, and curse the babysitter for making me take afternoon classes then he would take me inside for a long needed rest.
I was five then and now I am twenty-one, almost twenty-two, and I still remember his clothes, the way he used to smell of oil and dirt, his taxi driver hat, his crystal eyes and his bright smile every time I kissed him on the cheek. I still remember the man with such love for me that I almost drown in it now as I sit to write this. All of which I thought I lost in the winter of 1996, the year of the great blizzard. The year his heart had enough and imploded, the year when my own heart ripped in two, and has still never quite recovered from since.
There the family sits, in his bedroom, my brother, my mother, aunt, uncle and his soon to be wife. There we sit everyone around us knowing, except for my brother and me, there we sit laughing and playing this new game, there I sit happy. With one click of a doorknob my grandmother enters, all knowing as she was and is she sat on the bed and my mind goes blank.
“Grandpop is dead,” she declares, and starts reading from the children’s Bible in her hand. A sound comes from my throat and out of my mouth. At first, I do not realize it is I, but as the tears, flow the reality sinks in. A moment ago, happiness, and now, nothing but mournful sorrow rips from my chest.
The man who had walked eight miles to get his car, because I was having an asthma attack on a historical battlefield, the man who had taught me to meet people before judging them, the man who loved me just a little bit more than my brother, was dead. Now ash in the hands of the undertaker, now an angel in God’s heaven, and now an old ratty sweatshirt I wear to bed. I remember that day as if it were my own death and years later, it still hurts to put pen to paper.
Later in my life, I would hear a story that the same men he fought with at those meetings, cried at his funeral and the best way to describe that day, standing room only. There was no other place with more love in it than in that little chapel on that sorrow filled day. This all for a man who said he was an atheist, “Swear to God I am.”
Before his death, he would often jest to his children that when he was gone, he would forget my Aunt Mary, who he nicknamed his ulcer. That day, as the funeral progressed, the priest stood up and said, “And he left behind a family, his wife Philomena, his oldest Joanne, Robert, Anthony, and Sarah,” and then he promptly moved on to all my grandfathers accomplishments. The priest had left out my Aunt Mary, and that was when all of them lost it. The whole family was laughing up a storm and my aunt was murmuring her, “I don’t care’s.” This was his final joke, his final triumph; he had gotten the last word.
Sometimes I lay awake at night wondering what he would be doing, or what he would say to me now, and as if by some sort of magic, I hear his voice. “Goddammit, I’m dead, get over it!” to which he adds, “Hey God, you wanna hear a good one? She’ll be comin’ round the mountain doin’ ninety miles an hour, when the chain on her bicycle broke. Oh, she fell in the grass with a pedal up ’er ass, and to death she was tickled by the spokes,” after which, I cannot help but laugh.
(A True Story By: Laura Del (a.k.a. The Fiction Writer))