This week’s TT Topic is courtesy of the delicious Sideon…
Masculinity and Testosterone
Each day, for probably as long as he could remember – when he could remember – my grandfather rose before the sun and went to work, doing what he knew – provide well for his family because it was his duty to do so. To do that meant he must work really hard. The first US-soil-born child of an immigrant family from Calabria, Italy, Grandpa Vic learned about “hard times” and “hard work” as a child. He frequently regaled the family with stories of “walking to school in bare feet with only a potato sandwich for lunch and wearing khaki-green clothes that marked me as a poor boy” and how he had his first job at 8 and that he was honored as a young boy to play his accordion in an army of accordion players at the dedication and opening of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The one thing I’ve always admired about him was his dedication. He worked hard and he worked long. A sheet metal worker and long-standing member of the union, he was a proud man that did everything he could to live up to what he had been trained a man was supposed to be. He and his long-time friends – “Bob-n-Henny” – often joked about him being a mob boss and there was always a part of me that believed the tall tales because his commanding presence was stereotypically mobster. However, if he was a mob boss, he did it under the guise of a blue collar laborer who sweat drops of blood for every single penny he earned.
Everything he did, he did to make sure his “Honey Girl” had everything she could ever hope for – and to keep the peace. An aggressive man in his youth whose fiery nature was increased by excessive alcohol and later muted by the lack thereof, he found pleasure in massive poker tournaments in the dark, smoky private rooms of the high rollers at casinos all around Nevada, holding his own remarkably well and coming home with a myriad of trophies – his only “trinket” treasures. After Grandma Faye died in April 2003, Grandpa slowly began dying away minute by minute and although his physical form is on this earth still, he left long ago.
When it came time to clean out their house after her death and his placement with family members to keep him safe, I was gingerly walking through their once-scary basement as waves of emotions crashed around me and filled my senses. So much had gone on in their little house – over 50 years of memories were etched in the walls… the sump pump in the basement drain for every time the “goddamn basement is flooding again!” … his own version of his native language that always ended with, “In nomine patrie, et fili, Gesù Cristo et Spiritu Sancta” that was decidedly Catholic although his Mormon wife frowned severely at him every time… the old rotary dial black phone with the phenomenally long cord so you could talk on it from practically every corner of the tiny basement (and was perfect for those times that Grandma was doing laundry and wanted to join the conversation with Grandpa who was on the phone in the “phone closet” upstairs)… the chalkboard meant for important notes that eventually became the place where we family members left love notes for one another… the old wring-out tub that stayed for years after the modern washer and dryer appeared… the ancient, massive furnace that never left because it was so massive it seemed the house had been built around it and there was no way to remove it… the secret “cold storage” nook that seemed to be a dark, dank hole that went to the center of nowhere… the clothes line that always had clothes hanging on it… the food storage – years and years of home-canned foods… coffee tins… the old hand-crank ice-cream maker that was used by Grandpa for hours at a time to create the most delicious icy treat… boxes and boxes of treasures – most of which, sadly, got tossed without so much as a blink in the hustle to clean out the space… every single receipt he had ever received “just in case I need it.” All around me was the past and mementos of the life he had provided for his wife and four children.
As tears rolled down my face that day there in their cold basement that continually smelled of damp cement and earth, a glint caught my eyes from the basement rafters near the food storage shelves. I scooted, lugged and shoved one of the many 5-gallon buckets that were heavier than hell and filled with god knows what to underneath the shiny object and reached up to retrieve the treasure, imagining the discovery of the hiding place of the mob wealth he had always joked about. My fingers touched cold, corrugated metal and I knew, instantly, what I had discovered: his lunchbox.
My guess is that this lunchbox hailed from his first day as a working man and went with him every single day to work. It was bedecked with union propaganda and “go away” messages that would surely keep back even the nosiest of people. Inside was his thermos that still held the scent of strong coffee. I held it, feeling him near, and I cried, missing him, missing Grandma and remembering all the moments with this brash, sometimes hard man who was a giant Teddy Bear to me that allowed me – and only me – to mess with his silky salt-n-pepper hair and make it stand on end.
Thank you, Grandpa, for your example of hard work and tenacity, for your secretly – and sometimes boldly – crass sense of humor, for your dedication to doing what you know you must and for never giving up. Ever.
The other Talk Thursday Bloggers: