March 11, 1939 – December 9, 2002
He was a configuration of joy. He had no walls. His walls were his arms, that you inevitably would be squeezed between within seconds of being in his presence. He cared. So much. More than his big body could even hold. I was older now, but not as innocent. I had lost sight of my ability to observe, (for a short while). His love was evident, it nearly burst right from the seams of his open heart surgery. But I didn’t love him back. Not nearly as much. And I don’t know why. Everything about him, from his hefty body, to his pure white hair that highlighted his dark Italian skin, to his pinky ring, to the endless amounts of gifts, all screamed the love that I had wanted. That I had to dig for. It was all right there. But I didn’t take it. Deep down, I loved him to death. Even down to when he pinched my cheeks. He made me smile. How could It not? I was practically looking into a mirror whenever we locked eyes. I could see myself within him. And he did as well, long before I had.
The honk of the horn indicated that he had arrived. Like an ice-cream truck, it was his signature. And like Santa, he bore presents. Almost always food related. Crates of oranges would pile on the kitchen counter. I never liked oranges that much, but they smell fresh, and free. As we gathered around the kitchen table, I watched his chubby hands and dark knuckles peel the skin from the fruit wedges that were concealed underneath. And when he brought along a few caramel apples, he’d always be the first to unwrap it from the plastic it was stuck against. His hands were giving.
His visits were frequent, I enjoyed many. I couldn’t quite grasp how a single person could possess so much love and happiness. It startled me. I was scared. I didn’t want to be. But I had learned from before, too much, is too good to be true. I was scared of his joy, worried that I couldn’t live up to the plethora of happiness he had acquired. And I asked myself why. He had been divorced for many years, the youngest of his children had never forgiven him. A brisk pass in the Supermarket would offer him some chance, but she would never look back. He had smoked nearly four packs a day, had undergone two open heart surgeries. And yet he was still happy.
His hands were made for holding. Holding onto the only things he had left. He had lost control of his own life. But he hadn’t lost us. He hadn’t let loose of his happiness, that he kept a firm grip on.
As the water splashed in my face I couldn’t help but to giggle. A swimming partner was always needed, considering my sister left me hanging most of the time. I watched his tired legs climb the few steps up toward the pool, and the thousands of beads of water that sprinkled down on me as I stood above. It was much like him to cannonball into the shallow water. He liked the rush. I jumped in after, not creating nearly as much of a splash, but his hands made up for the extra splash that I lacked. I swam clear of his monster claws, as I never liked sharks very much. Who knew a four foot pool could provide such adventure. More like an old pal, than a grandfather. Maybe that’s why I didn’t love him. I didn’t savor him like I should have. He kept me close with his wide hands, but I kept him farther away. I was scared. Scared that all the good things would be gone. So I didn’t think. When he was here, we were one. I was him, and he was me. Our hysterics joined at the same tune. We played the same melody. But when he was gone, I didn’t think, until the next time he came around.
But there was one day, finally old enough to roam the lunchroom that had been turned into Santa’s station for just a day, by myself. I held my own money in my hands. My own will power to buy what I liked. My mind was blank as I stared at all the gifts and goodies. But I couldn’t think straight. All I could think about was him. Suddenly, none of the gifts appealed to me anymore. They were all too girly. This was my chance to give back. So I paced the floor for nearly twenty minutes, until I found the perfect gift. A tiny wooden cut out of a stocking, it was red, just like his swim trunks, and his favorite jacket. And I handed it to the lady behind the table. With her silver pen she wrote “Grandpa Vito” , it was perfect. That was the only thing I bought that day.
A rush had come over me, my hands would finally be filled with a gift for him. I felt different today, I didn’t want to forget him. I wanted to see his face when I handed him that two cent ornament, I wanted to see his hands as he held it. So I rushed home. And I found the prettiest green wrapping paper I could find. Without my mom’s help, I wrapped this oddly shaped figure with a thin piece of tissue paper, and hid it in my drawer. This would be our little secret. A few minutes later, my mom called me to the table. I was nervous she had found out that I had stolen her tissue paper. I was wrong. She delivered the news I never wanted to hear. The good had ended. And he hadn’t even been able to hold my stocking. I held back the tears. I had always been too strong to cry in front of my mother. I feared she wouldn’t know why I was crying at all. But they couldn’t be blocked. My hands covered my face in deep sorrow. I let out a few screams. My mother came to me to brace my now week body. But I pushed her away. I wanted to forget. But I couldn’t. So I raced to my room, and opened the drawer that had just been shut seconds before. I paced slowly toward the kitchen with my hands held tight to my chest. As soon as I reached the table, I let them drop. “But, I never had a chance to give him this…” My mother stood in awe. Tears dripping from her already sopped face. She slowly peeled away the thin tissue paper, and revealed the two cent ornament. “Don’t worry baby, he’ll get it.”
So now I take from him his identity. Being that we look nearly the same. I have his dark Italian knuckles, and tiny little pudgie nose. But more importantly I have his hands. His hands that give and that love, and that hold. He taught me that human compassion is rare, and should be savored.
So I placed my little stocking beside his hands, as he laid there in complete peace. He holds love.