When we were kids, my grandpa used to set one of us on his lap and make believe that we were riding a horse. The ride would start off at a nice pace, but would quickly descend into rough terrain, and would end with each of us tumbling off his knees — he would catch us as we dissolved into laughter.
When we were in elementary school, he started carrying a camera around with him everywhere and documenting all sorts of family activities. This wouldn’t have been much of an issue, except that he was an engineer (an actual rocket scientist, by career), and so sought to “engineer” each photo to make it perfect. We would all gather together and smile and he would point and focus, point and focus, move something, point and focus… At the age of 8, this process seemed as though it went on for hours, if not days.
In middle school, he used to sit us all down and show us family slideshows. Apparently the photo-taking wasn’t a recent development, because he had batches upon batches of slides, and he would walk us through each set — each family vacation — one by one, explaining who each person was (we knew most of the time, but he told us anyway), and what they were doing in each picture. Sometimes he and my grandma would then argue about where a picture was taken — “I’m pretty sure that was…” “No, this was at…” — details that never mattered to us when we were 11 and 13, but that seemed of the utmost importance to them at the time.
As an angsty teenager, he would attempt to give us pep talks on how to be better people and less of a burden to our parents. These were entirely unwelcome and generally unheeded by us — what could he possibly know about being 16? And who did he think he was trying to stick his nose into our business? But when I joined choir junior year, he began sharing his love for classical music with me — mostly requiems (a favorite of mine to this day, and entirely apt for the drama and perpetual agony of high school).
By the time we were out of college, his intense love for cooking had taken hold, and we took part in the yearly tradition of making ravioli from scratch for Christmas. My grandmother’s sauce would be bubbling away on the stove as grandpa would roll out the pasta by hand. Though we took our task of filling and cutting seriously, he was not amused when I made one giant raviolo and one teeny tiny one from some of the scraps. (My “family of ravioli” explanation apparently did not translate between the generations.)
As we got older, I realized how much I had in common with my grandpa. His intense love for pizza and bread — this had definitely been passed on. We would discuss pizza dough recipes — how to get the crust to brown perfectly, what techniques we were using with the sauce, etc. He would share his latest venture in bread making (he was attempting to tackle the “perfect” batch of rye). At one point he gave me a bags of flour (00 pizza flour and dark rye flour) — one of the most thoughtful gifts you can give me, to this day; in turn, I gave him loaves of bread from one my favorite bakeries for Christmas.
In April he came to mine and KC’s new place for a housewarming. He stood in the kitchen and examined things. “This is a good stove,” he noted. I agreed. Unbeknownst to him, my sister and I had long discussed never renting an apartment that didn’t offer a gas stove — these are our genes.
These days he would read my blog and make the occasional comment — usually on a pizza recipe, or on one of the Penny posts (“That damn dog is so cute,” was his usual remark).
Over the years he taught me a lot — about music. about memories, about tradition. But mostly, he taught me about family — about our family. We’re loud, we bug each other, we stick our noses where they don’t belong — but we’re there for each other. We’re there when you’re happy, when you’re sad, when you’re annoyed, when you’re 16, and every other time in between.
I loved my grandpa, and I sure will miss him.
April 4, 1933 – October 27, 2013