My PopPop: Causing Trouble and Offering Comfort Sunday, Dec 8 2013 

US Coast Guard

US Coast Guard

My paternal grandfather was a bit of a trouble maker, which he passed down to his two sons.  He had a good sense of humor, and after he battled some personal difficulties he showed his loving heart and infectious laughter with his family.  He left this world nearly 25 years ago, but I still remember his playful smile and mischievous tendency.

PopPop was a significant part of my life growing up, living with my parents when they moved into their first home.  The in-law suite worked perfectly so that each could have their privacy yet still be in close proximity.  I recall family dinners when my dad would frequently cause his father to burst out in laughter, which tended to be a choking hazard. My grandfather suffered a stroke before I was born which left him with a significant speech impediment.  When I hear his voice in my memories, I hear him as he was – slurred speech and all.  He was there during the holidays, right there to watch us unwrap our gifts from Santa on Christmas morning.

In addition to our family lineage and stories, a strong spirituality was also passed down through the generations.  My maternal grandmother (MomMom) was my godmother and PopPop, my Confirmation sponsor.  They were such an important part of my life, and when they died it felt like they took a part of me with them.  MomMom’s death was sudden and I too young to understand what had happened.  As such, I never got to say goodbye.  Six years after her death, history repeated itself when my dad’s father died.  I stood with my mother and cried, sad that I wouldn’t get to see him again but more upset that I didn’t get to say goodbye.  To say “Thank You” or tell him I loved him.

That night I said goodbye in my dreams.  I stood in the in-law suite, darkness around me.  Then there he was, with his grey hair and glasses.  I ran to him and he hugged me tight.  I rested my head against his chest and squeezed with all the love I could muster.  I told him goodbye and woke without sadness.  When PopPop died many grieved for his passing, but our family still jokes that wherever he is, he’s causing trouble and doing it with a smile!

If it’s not one thing… Monday, Aug 6 2012 

Last week I discussed the challenges I have been dealing with in researching my father’s side of the family.  It’s Mom’s turn this week and finding her relatives has been much easier; for the most part.

Growing up I spent a lot of time in my mother’s hometown.  Hazleton, Pennsylvania became my home away from home.  A place that I loved to spend my summers.  My grandmother had been one of the most important relationships in my young life and she’s remained a big part of my life ever since.  When my maternal grandmother died in 1984 I was only 7 but the impact of that loss was significant.  By that time, my mother had lost her father, her step-father and then her mother.  All before her 32nd birthday.  I can’t imagine what she had to deal with. She had four daughters left to raise without her mother to offer support, guidance and advice.  Sometimes, I think that’s part of the reason she’s such a pivotal part of her grandchildren’s life. 

My mother grew up in a house that her grandfather had built.  She’d tell me stories about the winding staircase, the fireplace and the family get-togethers.  We found pictures a few months ago that showed the ornate fireplace, the cherubed ceilings and the french doors.  There were so many photos of family members; especially my mother, uncle and their cousins. 

Family played a significant role in my mother’s life.  She grew up with so many cousins, on both sides of her family, and they spent a lot of time together.  (There’s a part of me that wished I had the same; but times change and families live where economics and employment determine they go.)  Even after my grandmother died we’d go back to Hazleton frequently.  My mother still had aunts, uncles and cousins in the area and there was even a family reunion every August.

I knew more about my mother’s side of the family then my father’s.  We joked that my mom was a coal miner’s daughter but it was only a few generations of difference.  In putting together my family tree I realized how happy I was that her side of the family had unique names, both first names and surnames.  Thank heavens for the Elmers, Ellsworths and Martins! I found generations of coal miners, farmers and truck drivers.  I realized that the strong family bonds were necessary because early death was not only likely but frequent.  My mother’s great-grandfather died in a coal mining accident in 1902 at the age of 32.  He left behind a wife and numerous children.  How did his family put food on the table, clothes on their backs and smiles on their faces?  My great, great-grandmother remarried a few years later and the half-siblings went on to hold that joint family reunion.

My mother’s father died at the age of 40.  A truck driver by occupation, he was injured in a fluke trucking accident; causing him to no longer be able to work.  My grandmother had to work to provide for the family.  Eventually, he became sick and died at an age that was much too young.  My grandmother remarried and I grew up knowing my mom’s brother, step-brother and step-sister as equal members of my family. 

In researching my maternal ancestors I’ve come to the conclusion that family isn’t always determined by blood.  Love guided my mother’s relations and she passed that down to her children.  For that, I will be eternally grateful!

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