Throwback Thursday: Pop Pop, Nana and me

Pop Pop and Nana celebrate my graduation on Long Island.

Pop Pop and Nana celebrate my graduation on Long Island.

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?

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82 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: Pop Pop, Nana and me

      • You are right Mark. There are many areas here, where there were old trash places long time ago, even someone still use them as so. This is the only big green areas, where we can play and walk before we go to the beach. At the beach we find trash too, even there are places to deliver trash for free here, when you are private. Companies need to pay for this and then it is more cheap to throw it away, where they thing no one will see them.
        But we do take care and it is very rare that Odin gets any problems with that.

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  1. A great throwback (is it Thursday already? Eeeek!) I love to take long walks. I find they spark my creativity and give me time to collect my thoughts. I have very few memories of my grandparents, they died when I was young. It makes me sad that when I look at old pictures of them I can’t quite remember how they were, what they sounded like or their personalities. It also makes me realize how precious memories are!

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    • I’m sad to hear that your grandparents passed when you were young, Amanda. I was fortunate. Pop Pop and Nana both remained in my life until I reached my young 20s! On my father’s side, my Pop Pop passed when I was 12, but my Bobci did not go until a decade ago, making it to 90 years old! Yes, memories are very precious, my friend. I love to take long walks, still, and I know where I got it from! Thanks for sharing, Amanda. πŸ™‚

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  2. loving the vintage photo–it’s Kerbey-style πŸ˜‰ Handsome graduate you were, Mark. I remember my grandparents being hardworking, both sets. My dad’s parents read devotions before meals and grandpa monotoned prayers that seemed to go on forever. (while the smells of my grandma’s cooking made my stomach growl, waiting for the meal to start) My mom’s dad kept a “secret” candy stash in his house that the grandkids would delight in finding (and devouring). “Stern” was a word you used for your Nana and I can see that in my grandparents, too. Thanks for starting my day with a smile, Mark. Fun to dig up these memories. I’m off to take a long walk, now. (OK, I’m really off to go the gym, but that’s sort of the same, right?)

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    • I had promised Kerbey that I’d post a photo of my Nana for a Throwback Thursday a long time ago, so I thought today of that as I finally delivered, Liz. Yes, this is much in our friend’s style. This is for you, Kerbey. πŸ™‚

      Thanks for sharing the thoughts of your visits and secret candy stashes and stomach growling from food smells, and monotone endless prayers. The things that stick with us from the older generations are what mold us, one way or another.

      Yes, the gym sure does count as a long walk! I have my bowling league tonight. I count that, too. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Grandparents are definitely very influential on a lot of children. I could go on and on about the relationship I had with my grandmother, but better to leave that for my blog. What I did pick up here, was the whole walking and public transportation thing which I miss (yes even the subways) living here in L.A.

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    • Yes, in greater New York, you walked and took public transportation. A lot. I didn’t even have a school bus until our second house on Long Island (see above), in the eighth grade. In Levittown, we walked to school, and in seventh grade, Division H.S. (7th to 12th in one school!) was three miles from our house!

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      • I don’t doubt it! I never took the bus to school either. My mother drove us to elementary, although we could have easily walked. By jr. high and high school we were walking. Jr. high was over a mile but nowhere near 3. Hey, you could tell your kids those stories, you know, ‘I walked to school 3 miles in the snow…with no shoes…AND I LIKED IT!!!

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  4. I made the ultimately bad decision to go through family photos on Christmas Day. Alone. My goal was to find any that I wanted to keep and give the rest to my aunt and brother. It brought up a lot of memories, of what was behind smiles, etc. Not good.

    The pictures I ended up deciding to keep? Ones of my grandparents. ❀

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  5. That’s a sweet story MarK. Your grandparents were so colorful. Knowing Greenpoint I could see the picture you paited with words. I never knew either of my grandfather’s and only my mother’s mother who raised me. She use to tell stories that my aunt said weren’t true. So I kind of believe I got my writing bug from her.

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  6. Yay, I like it so much! I can see you going around, picking up metal and Coke bottles. I’d be inclined to think Pop Pop was a child of The Depression, but no, he would have been born closer to the turn of the century. I just finished reading an article in a British magazine, and the name Charlotte came up, and I thought how pretty it was, too! She’s got her requisite pearls and a peacocky-glowing dress, and your robe is somehow chameleoning into those colors as well. She’s probably wearing pearls in heaven, and Pop Pop must be keeping busy. You’ve done it again–put another James Taylor song in my head–“…and the walking man walks…”

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    • Thank you for this exquisite comment, Kerbey. Nana and Pop Pop are happy I have a friend who gets it. I don’t remember if I shared this Nana tale with you last time, but on the night of her funeral services, my first cousin Melissa and I were sitting in her mother, mu Aunt Marion’s living room, drinking wine and talking about our grandmother, and out of the blue, Nana’s favorite wooden rocking chair in the corner started swaying like crazy. And there was no wind. We kind of freaked in a good way.

      I’m glad I brought that wondrous James Taylor song to mind, too, for Pop Pop. He’s up there doing his thing, I’m sure.

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      • dude – I am so sorry – I am new to following you – and well, I was going through the reader so quickly -and sometimes i skimmed long posts (which I know is debatable for some folks to do) and well, I just saw the 1975 – and Tess part –
        however – I actually know a few people that call their grand dad “pop pop” so that should have clicked – anyhow, you were sweet about me missing the obvious – and I think that is cool.
        take care and looking forward to dropping by in the upcoming year –

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  7. this is great mark, and you’re right about how our memories aren’t always reality exactly, but how we saw things from our young perspective. fantastic pic of the 3 of you, and i had a nana too, who was married to umpa. )

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  8. Mark, I really like this photo and the warmth and pride your grandparents are showing, too. What a wonderful Throwback Thursday photograph! I am more enlightened of your grandparents and they leave me feeling warm and fuzzy inside. Pop Pop sharing his green money with little Mark. Such a nice lesson in being careful, recycling and making some cash out of discarded metal objects. I like long walks with my grandchildren, hoping they will have such nice memories. I paid Micah a dollar but he wished I had paid him like his other grandma, Mimi, $10. He got a lot of ‘mileage’ out of his sharing with everyone he met about cleaning Mimi’s toilet and earning big bucks! ha ha!

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    • Don’t let him pull you into a grandma competition, Robin! Your way is fine and dandy, a buck to clean it. I’m with you. πŸ™‚ Yes, my Pop Pop taught me on those walks we took. πŸ™‚

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  9. that’s a really neat story Mark. Your family was really close. Love the fact that Pop Pop would save the bottles for you when you weren’t around – as if you were there with him all the time.

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  10. What a fantastic story. What depth to the walks and the events. And what fortune in your walks Mark, and I don’t mean monetary. I love the picture and from looking at it, would not use the word ‘stern’. Isn’t it funny how our memories and pictures do not always match up. Do you think Pop Pop would consider Nana stern? Do you think Nana would consider Nana stern? Again, I love this story.

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    • Thank you, MDB Colleen. Nana was pretty darn happy at my high school graduation, that’s for sure. But yeah, she liked being considered the stern one of the couple to the rest of us, thinking Pop Pop the softie for the kids. πŸ™‚ But she was soft for him, too, I would catch her calling him Georgie when they were talking. That was pretty cute. πŸ™‚

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      • I love stories like this MBM. ❀ I relish the idea of someone's story being kept alive. Think of the billions of 'love' stories that are considered 'normal' or 'ordinary' and are not considered movie or book worthy. But to someone….they were everything. The stars, the moon, the world. They were grand in every way….to someone. πŸ™‚

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      • You are so right, Colleen. Everyone has a story that somebody else at some point was the other party in and would love to hear again, and then draw the line out to the people that came from them … You have your own special version of viral, MDB.

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      • I hope to see more of these from you MBM. They are my favorites. That picture that doesn’t quite show the stern Nana, but you get a good idea of Pop Pop being a character, and there’s Mark just about to step in to adulthood….. yeah. These stories….bring ’em on!

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  11. Mark, I love, love, love, love, LOVE this post! I have to know, what is babka? And, I don’t think Nana was scowling as much as you remember, because she was thoughtful enough to bring home the magazine for you. She was probably just tired and it showed. When I was little and watched Leave it to Beaver, I always thought June was nice and Ward was a hard ass. Now that I watch it as an adult, I think June is a ditz and Ward is the wisest man there was. My point is not to bring up my passion for classic TV, but to remind you how perceptions change with the years. πŸ™‚ Check your Facebook for a surprise. πŸ™‚

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    • Thank you, mi hermanita! Now you know more about your east coast Bialdez branch. πŸ™‚ We have nice-looking grands over here, don’t we? Thanks, sis Sandra. Miss you. Enjoy the Super Bowl on Sunday! Who are you and Oliva rooting for?

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      • I love hearing stories about the east coast branch of the Bialdez family tree! Miss you too. Oliva and I are with team Brady. Because he’s not above wearing a knit hat with an oversized Pom Pom. As an avid knitter I support that kind of respect for the craft. πŸ˜‰ Are you shoveling snow under those tall pines at the itty bitty these days? January out west is so dry. 70s the past couple days. Lovely but not what we need right now. You take good care, hermano! Xoxo

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      • Yeah, QB Brady looks good wearing that knit Jester’s hat, sis. I love your knitting ways, my dear, but you see, this Jets fan is anti-Patriots and pro Russell Wilson and Seattle Seahawks for today’s game. Have a fun Super Bowl Sunday!

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  12. Really enjoyed this!! I learned to can apple butter from one of my grandmas, the same one that passed on the stubborn “I’ll cut my nose off to spite my face sometimes to show you who’s the boss of me” character flaw pretty much all the people in my family from her side have πŸ™‚ We can have that German-Swiss/Irish-Scottish/Indian temper, too πŸ˜‰ My grandpas both died young, but my grandmas lived until I was in my early 50s – one died at 99, one at 89, 4 months apart – and I am so fortunate to have such wonderful memories with them both. They were both strong-willed women who took care of themselves. After all those years, they definitely left a hole when they left . . .
    Memories . . . ❀

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    • That strong will your grandma gave you is a great trait, Sadie. The apple butter is a tasty pass-down, too.

      As we age, it’s intetresting to view these relationships all over again and rediscover what they were trying to teach us and what we did their vision of how to show that love.

      Thanks for sharing your stories, my friend. ❀

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