“I knew this guy once. Old Sully He died watchin’ the Sox on TV. Just keeled over dead after they lost,” says Poppy, cigar clamped in his mouth, a pair of Goodwill false teeth gripped in his workbench vise. “Oh ya! This is true,” he affirms, admiring his handiwork.
For my grandfather there was no better dentist than himself. He never had a set of false teeth from a dentist as the ones he bought in thrift shops and filed down for comfort.
I’m using my own back teeth (standard issue from birth) to gnaw chunks off a dripping orange Popsicle in the cool dankness of our cellar. The tide is out and the smell of the seaweed baking in the sun along with Poppy’s Dutch Master tobacco is comforting. Dusty light shines through the old planks of the makeshift door. Poppy also cut the shape of a heart into the mismatched wood – Eddie Hart’s signature – so people passing by would know where to stop to “see a guy who knew a guy” for all of your “discount” needs.
Inside the cellar, the sun blasted and refracted a tall heart outline against the back cement wall. A bright Valentine pulled upward like melted Turkish Taffy.
“So they take him away, ya know, in the cooler truck. You know Fat Sully down the corner? He used to have an ice cream truck he rented out at night to Sully The Gimp at the funeral home.”
I open my mouth and a hunk of sugared ice falls out onto the dirt floor.
He looks up. “Not NOW, dumdum! This was years ago! Anyways, what happens is that Old Sully dies, right? So his wife calls the ice cream truck and they come down, load him up and off ya go.”
Poppy twirls the vise and frees the teeth. He starts buffing them with a rag. “Now, lissen. So Sully the Gimp is driving the truck to the funeral home and all of a sudden, Old Sully sits straight up out of a pile o’ Creamsicles and yells out ‘FOUL BALL!’ Just like that! He come back from the dead!”
I drop my Popsicle. “Then what happened?”
Poppy thinks. “Well, come to think of it. Sully the Gimp got so nerved up, he drove the ice cream truck off a cliff. But it did prove that people can come back from the dead.”
My mouth hangs open for a beat and then the heart on the cement wall disappeared as Nana yanks open the cellar doors. Sunlight blinds us for a second.
“Edward A. Hart!” she booms. “That…is a crock of shit! Sully did most certainly not die and come back to life!”
Poppy shrugs. “Go ask the nuns, they’ll tell ya!”
“They were talking about Jesus, you idiot!”
Nana finds church more specific than Poppy; a Big Picture kinda guy who listens in broad strokes and then breaks it down for the rest of us. She storms out of the cellar. Poppy sticks his tongue out in her wake.
Then he winks at me.
December 25, 2014
I started this blog nearly twelve months ago.
Encouraged by my goddaughter Baby L, I decided to try and work through my tremendous grief over the unexpected loss of our mother by writing down my journey. It would not matter to me if anyone read it or not.
It was going to be an insightful, meaningful diary of the steps one must take to weather the stinging sea-spray of pain, guilt and regret.
Yeah, like that happened.
Instead, my loose collection of rambling anecdotes became The Positively, Absolutely, 100% Hysterically True Adventures of the roving gypsies who make up my family. And not without some familial blowback, I should add.
Who was I kidding? I don’t know anything about the steps of conquering grief. Or really anything. Half the time I’m lucky I remember to put mascara on both eyes instead of dolling up one and then just wandering away to some other activity.
I didn’t get counseling because I’m part Irish and although I try to fight it – let’s face facts. We the Scituate Irish will never shell out good money to a stranger/therapist when we can force our relatives to listen for free. This has the added bonus of the possible eruption into a full-scale family brawl when we are given a diagnosis we cannot accept.
Such as, “Ya got nobody to blame for ya problems but yaself, ya dumdum.”
You can’t get that from a professional therapist no matter how much you pay per hour!
Anyway, all they will say is that it gets better each day.
Nana would say that is also a crock of shit.
However, I discovered one thing. I did care if anyone saw what I wrote. I thank you for reading me. Very much.
So, how have I handled the loss of the woman I knew the longest?
Let’s move on.
My other big fancy-pants blog plan was to culminate the year telling you all of the finite details of those crucial last few hours. The phone call from Dad as I was driving across the state headed for another Griswold Family Christmas. Sissy landing at Tampa Airport, Gale driving from Virginia and me on the phone with both of them, telling them tohurryhurrypleasehurryasfastasyoucan! because something was happening and I wasn’t quite sure how it would all turn out.
The family gathered, the doctor talking and me refusing to listen because what do they know anyway? It’s not like producing a TV show, for crissakes!
And then the sound of Sissy’s boots – I knew that sound – desperately running down the hallway toward Gale and I in the waiting room. The click-click-click of a messenger bearing new no one will accept.
A year later, I have to ask myself – who the hell wants to hear that?
I don’t know anything more about grief than I did a year ago. No time has passed despite the couple of hundred thousand words I’ve written to you. I am still in the very same place.
This much I do know. If you grab an orange Popsicle on a hot summer day, you might think about Old Sully. Whether or not he came to back to life while resting atop the Flintstone Push Ups and Rocket Pops is irrelevant.
What is relevant is that I’ve never forgotten him. People live as long as someone remembers them. I don’t need the nuns (who were probably barmaids) Poppy was talking about to prove it to me.
Last night fifteen people from all across the country gathered at my mother’s house. We cooked and served and laughed out loud. Over a dozen folks who may never have met had it not been for that chance encounter that somehow added them into our tribe.
We didn’t cry nor did we say a blessing before the meal. No one tried to tell anyone else the way Mom would have done this or served that. We did what we do best – we kept moving forward at the breakneck pace that allows us to survive. We, the stubborn Irish with Greek tempers and European love of butter.
Mom was all around us from the old Revereware pans with the copper bottoms on the stove to the shiny silver bell in her china cabinet. My sisters and I understood this and we didn’t need to discuss it out loud. Instead we did what she expected of us.
We just got through it, our year without Mum.
I thank you for helping us along. All of you readers, you posters and especially you blog inhabitants. If I’ve ever written about you, you know you’ve lightened the heavy load for me.
I’m very grateful.
“Lookit, if you wanna be smaht,” Poppy says, “then you ask Santy Claus for somethin’ that he can really bring ya. For instance, a pony ain’t gonna fit in no sleigh. Plus everyone knows reindeers and ponies are sworn enemies. So ya gotta be smaht. Ask Santy for Poppy to win big at poker night and then you can parlay that into a pony, mebbe.”
My grandfather leans on his workbench and says probably the most profound statement of his life.
“Ya see, kid? It’s all a question of angles. Ya gotta have an angle to get through life. Whatever it takes.”
Then he goes back to filing down his new teeth.
Christmas Morning 2014
My holiday wish for you is simple. Attainable. Something you can give yourself and parlay into a gentle end of 2014 for the world. I wish it for myself and for my own gypsy caravan.
I am asking Santa for each of you to have yourselves a merry little Christmas. Whatever that means to you – I want you to have it.
Let your hearts be light. And hang a shining star upon the highest bough. Come on, have yourselves a merry little Christmas now.