Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I am lucky enough to have had the chance to know all four of my grandparents. I know many people who did not have that opportunity. And I was blessed to get a bonus grandparent, an extra. Ed was, for many years, my surrogate grandfather. My grandfathers had both passed when I was pretty young, and Ed came around a few years after my Pap died. He and my Grandma Doll met at a support group for widows and widowers. They had a connection, one that was often antagonistic and amusing. Every once in a while they would get in a good argument and stop talking to each other for a few days. She was stubborn, and he didn't hesitate to call her on it. Their forced distance never lasted long, they always ended up back together. But they loved each other, that was never in question. Ed was a part of my family. We were lucky to have him. He was a special man.

Never having kids of his own, and being alone for many years after his wife had died, I think he was glad to have us around too. We filled voids for each other. He was funny and sarcastic, but gentle and loving. He got to go to baseball games and birthday parties. We got advice from someone who had been around the block a few times. We shared holidays, and ribbed each other about football. You see, even though he had never attended college, he was a loyal Notre Dame fan. I used to give him the hardest time for that. What business did he have being a Notre Dame fan? He was Italian!

When I chose USC, it grated on his nerves. After months of anticipation and endless teasing, we all went to the Notre Dame/USC game my freshman year of college. The weather was horribly cold, almost freezing by the time the game was over. It was the last season that the NCAA would allow Division I teams to finish in a tie, and a tie was the only appropriate ending for the game that night. The teams had to call a truce, and so did we.

During the first week of my sophomore year of college, I got a phone call. It was my Dad, and he had some news. The kind of news that you are told to sit down for. It was Ed. Just nine months after that football game, he was gone. And I was, again, without a grandfather.

Since he did not have children, and the rest of his family was fairly emotionally distant, he had chosen my grandmother to inherit his house and all his belongings. Of course, some of his family miraculously appeared after they heard of his passing, mostly to collect anything of value from the house. We didn't stop them though, since they made the argument that he was *their* family and not ours. It didn't matter though. We weren't there for the things. I was sad for them. I was sorry that they didn't know him like we did. That they, his true relatives, had no idea what an amazing man he was.

Out of the things that they left, I did manage to keep a tea set, the one that I use with the kids for tea parties. I also kept a few dishes. I kept some Italian books because he made little notes in the margins. And I kept his Notre Dame stuff. He would have wanted it that way. Cleaning out his house was no small task, and we worked on it for a long time. Weekends and weekends of cleaning. Stripped wallpaper, painted the walls and tidied up the yard. It was hard to say goodbye. He had been such an important part of my life for so many years.

What I didn't realize was that he had made some prior arrangements with my grandmother. Arrangements about his car. He wanted me to have it, and there was to be no arguing about it. It was mine. I had a car. Well, I had a land yacht. I had a tank.

It was a 1981 Chrysler Imperial. It was a gigantic silver beast. With primer spots. The leather interior had been ruined years before by teenage vandals that threw some kind of acid in the car and it burned holes in the seats. The vinyl part of the roof was peeling. And the car had an electrical short that caused the battery to drain repeatedly. The only solution for that was to install a kill switch. The switch couldn't be put inside the car for fire hazard reasons, and had to go under the hood. The huge, wide and heavy hood.

It could guzzle an entire tank of gas on the way to work. I worked in downtown LA, about 10 miles from my apartment, and it could go through an entire tank. My friends got to be experts at lifting the massive hood. I got really, really good at parking. When I first started taking it to work, and first had to get it parked in the underground structure, I tried parking between two concrete pillars. I rammed right into one of them. Dented the pillar, but the car escaped unscathed. I can't tell you how many times I would sit and laugh in that car. I have a feeling Ed was laughing right along with me. We had some good times.

While it certainly wasn't the car of my dreams, it was my dream car. It was a car, and it was mine. And I will be eternally grateful to the man, the wonderful man, who gave me that gift. Thanks Ed. I miss you.

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