116. Grandpa

I have always felt I had the best father in the world. I know, of course, that many people are lucky enough to feel the same way about their own fathers. But no one has ever said that about my grandfather.

My grandfather, the only grandparent I’ve ever known, had a bit of a reputation for being odd. He and my grandmother were both Simeone — first cousins — in a arrangement that was the custom of the time, and unfortunately resulted in my father having an inherited form of blindness.

Has there ever been a more miserable-looking bride?

He had come to America as a young man, leaving his wife and two sons back in Gaeta, where he saw them only every few years. When it was time to return to America, he was famous for his sobbing farewells, which were followed immediately by pulling out his nice sandwich and wine as soon as the train pulled out of the station.

My grandfather’s rendering of my branch of the family tree. I’m the second Angela Maria; my cousin and I are both named for our paternal grandmother, the custom there.

In America, he lived in Waltham, Mass., where a branch of the family had settled. He was a whiz with numbers, but his eccentricities prevented him from ever having work that took advantage of his abilities. In fact, whenever I did something my parents considered “weird,” they would call me Grandpa, as if his DNA was manifesting itself in me. When my father came to America at age 19, there was apparently no talk of living with his father; he lived with his Uncle Nick and his family instead.

My father (right) with Uncle Nick

That said, when I was little, in the final years of his life, my parents took him in. I guess that’s what one did in those days; they certainly couldn’t have been thrilled to do it. We had a tiny two-bedroom ranch house, so the dining room was turned into a bedroom for Grandpa, and we ate our meals in a corner of the living room. I remember only a few things about him — he smoked little cigars, he drank vermouth, and he cooked pigs’ feet on the stove, which I remember liking, probably the only American-born preschooler in the world who could say that. My very proper and fastidious mother made my father speak to him about peeing in the back yard. The only thing I can remember him saying to me was that he was going to Waltham to see relatives, but would be back “by and by.”

With my grandfather on Easter

When I was four, I remember sitting down to lunch. My grandfather had an unusual look on his face; I clearly remember thinking he looked like an angel. At that moment, he crumbled to the floor and died. I don’t remember being particularly traumatized by this event, but for the next 30 years, whenever my father dozed off in front of the TV, I would check to make sure he was breathing.

On January 8, 1988, he wasn’t.



7 thoughts on “116. Grandpa

  1. Gigi, this is beautiful. I didn’t realize you’re first generation Italian. Is Gaeta close to Radda in Chianti? If so, we have been there. Thank you for sharing such a lovely family story.


  2. Your grandpa, who was my father’s brother-in-law would visit frequently. He had two black leather shopping bags filled with fish from Boston market! My poor mother souls groan when he entered the door. I don’t know what kind of fish, cause being a young child Ihated everything! Uncle James or BoBo as he was called among family would come down for breakfast with is cigar tucked behind his ear and he would partake of black coffee mix with a RAW egg. He also would relieve himself under the back porch which alway made me laugh—-cause we did have indoor plumbing!! In his behalf, I think he was a smart man–I think he was an Italian version of a curmudgeon!!!!!


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