A grandmother is a mother who has a second chance

Friday, September 7, 2007

If he were still here today he'd be 118 !!

Today is my maternal grandfather's birthday. He passed away in 1973 - two months before my kids were born so they never had a chance to know him. But, boy, would they have enjoyed him.

Papa Jim (his name was actually John but for some strange reason everyone called him Jim!), was born in Italy and came to this country when he was in his late teens or early twenties. Somehow his family and my grandmother's (Nani Gene) family got together and decided it would be nice for them to get married. He was 16 years older than her and she was just 16 on their wedding day. She always told us that she was forced to marry him, how unhappy she was because he was so much older. But they were together until he passed away which was 52 years later. So something was working.

This is one of my favorite pictures of them taken in 1930. My mother was 7 that year so Nani Gene must have been 25 and Papa Jim was whatever 25 plus 16 is.


They really were a good couple - in spite of all her complaints!

Papa Jim loved to play around with his guitar (which I still have). He didn't really play, but he sure had fun. I remember as a kid laughing when he would do his Groucho Marx walk around the house while strumming the guitar.


He was VERY Italian. Never lost his accent and never stopped missing his home land - although he loved Tucson. It reminded him of the village he had lived in when he was little. I don't think he was ever very healthy, so my grandmother is the one who went out and worked while Papa Jim would sit home drinking red wine and smoking with his friends. He had a few jobs here and there, but mostly he sat. He did play up the sickness thing, though. When I was in college my girlfriend and I rented the little cottage next to my grandparents. I remember one day she was leaving for work and he was sitting on the porch moaning and groaning about how sick he was. But, within about an hour of her driving away, a couple of his old crony friends came by and they drank wine, told stories, smoked, and had a great time for the bulk of the day. Then, just before Nani Gene got home, he put the sick face back on and timed his moaning and groaning perfectly for her arrival.

Driving was not his strong suit. Oh, he loved his car - as did everyone in the 50's and 60's. But he had trouble with the little things like pulling into the carport without hitting the side, backing out without noticing my grandmother's car was parked behine him and crumpling her front hood (man, you should have heard the yelling that day!), following the rules of the road. One day when we had first moved to Tucson, my dad and I were driving somewhere and Papa Jim was in the car with us giving dad directions. He said, "Turn left here." So dad turned and discovered he was going the wrong way on a one-way road. "Jim, this is a one-way road!! We can't drive down here." Papa Jim said, "Eh, we only go a little way - no problem." Surprised he never became a cab driver.


While my grandmother was the worker bee of the family, Papa Jim was the cook. He would whip up the most authentic Italian meals. All kinds of meats, thick rich sauce that he would cook for half the day, meatballs, fried fish for Christmas - the works. Of course, often his sauce has a 1/2 inch layer of oil on the top. But you could always spoon that out before eating.

I remember when we first moved to Tucson and he took me to a little bakery down the street. He went there often for donuts and the man who owned it was tired of throwing away the dough from the holes he cut in the donuts, so he decided to fry them up and give them away to his customers! We'd get a big paper sack of donut holes long before Dunkin Donuts even thought of them. The grease would seep through the paper bag and the taste was heavenly.

I wish my kids could have known him. He was funny, loving, and had so many great stories. Most of them sprinkled with Italian cuss words. The photo below is Papa Jim (the one with the hat, Nani Gene (in the dark outfit), my paternal grandmother, and the dorky kid is me.

Happy Birthday, Papa Jim. Wish you were still here.

3 comments:

Autumn said...

I loved reading about your grandpa and looking at the old photos. Thanks for sharing him with us

Jenni said...

I love the way papa Jim is wearing a cowboy hat and holster in that last picture! And what on Earth are you holding up to your ear?

I wish I could have know him. That picture of him and Nani Gene from 1930 is one of my favorites too.

Chris said...

Aw, thanks for sharing. Happy Birthday to him. ;)