When my mind brings up memories of my Pop Pop and Nana, grandparents on my mother’s side, George is always smiling.
The old guy — yes, no matter the age I am in these flashbacks that still warm me today, Pop Pop is remembered as old — is happy when he had I are walking around his neighborhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He’s got his head down, searching for scraps of salvagable metal, which he’ll toss into a canvas bag he’s toting. If it’s an empty Coke bottle he sees, I’ll throw that into my bag. We’ll stop at a store before we return to the apartment building so I can turn the empties into change for my pocket. Back to the shotgun-style upstairs flat he shared with Nana my entire memory of their time here on Earth, he’ll drag the metal bag down to his corner of the cellar. Once he’s got enough stacked there to make it worthwhile, my father will pile Pop Pop, me and the scraps into our family car for a trip to the metal yard, where the green folding money earned will be divided, some into my father’s pocket to make the trip worthwhile, some into mine because Pop Pop wants it to, and the rest into Pop Pop’s because this is the way he’s been brought up. Yes, when it’s been weeks between our trips into the city from our home on Long Island, there’s a big pile of bottles sitting beside that metal from Pop Pop’s journeys. I’ve heard people around the neighborhood call him “The Walking Man.”
He’s happy when we’re walking to the subway and then walking out from the El in Flushing for a trip to Shea Stadium to see our beloved Mets.
Later on, though, his gait has slowed and his legs are stiff as he walks from the passenger’s seat of my father’s car — shotgun seat of honor always, of course — to our front door on Long Island, but he’s happy to see his youngest daughter and her three children, three of his five grandkids.
Nana, meanwhile — always aged as a perfect match to Pop Pop — is remembered as somewhat of a scowler in my memories. She’s the one who dismissively waves me off the day I discover that the grandmother whom I’ve heard being called Tess by Pop Pop my whole life — and this discovery comes as I reach my teens — is actually named Charlotte. When her oldest grandchild lovingly tells her how beautiful he thinks the name Charlotte is, so why would she want to be called Tess, she scoffs at him.
I also remember her coming home to that apartment in Greenpoint late at night during the summer week my parents would send me there to catch two or three Mets games with Pop Pop. Nana has a job that entails a weeknight subway trip into Manhattan, where she cleans offices. She returns with a sports magazine for me that she says, with a tone of disapproval and a little cluck of her tongue, a negligent boss had tossed in a trash can. And then she sits at the kitchen table and dunks a hunk of babka into her nightly cup of tea as Pop Pop sits next to her. I hear their voices, low, thinking of smiling Pop Pop and stern Nana recounting their days as I retire on the couch in the living room at the other end of the apartment.
Funny to me, then, how we look in this picture taken in June of 1975 on the day I graduated from high school.
Do photos in your scrapbooks sometimes clash with your memories of certain periods of your life? What lessons do you recall from your grandparents? Do you take long walks, and what do you look for the most?