First of all, Happy Independence Day America! [ Cue “And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free…”] In 1776, our forefathers, who were considered rebels at the time, stood up and resisted the ways of a tyrannical government. They were brave. They were fierce.They were Americans. Hoo-rah!
As the Fourth of July rolls around this year and everyone gets their BBQ essentials ready to showcase their patriotism in the likes of star-spangled bathing suits and beer cans, I have to say my heart is a bit heavy. You see while most families see the Fourth of July as a day to hang out by the pool and watch fireworks, my family grew up with it meaning a little something more. For us, the Fourth of July meant it was my grandpa’s birthday.
Every year, since I can remember the Fourth of July was shadowed by the celebration of the patriarch of our family. All 2347 of my cousins and their kids and my aunts and uncles, take time from our hectic schedules and make time to be with each other and celebrate him. There are fireworks, soccer games in the backyard, tons of food and Nanny’s infamous lemon meringue pie that’d I’d have to fight Uncle Steve for.
This year is the first year that my grandpa won’t be here.
I was very close with my Grandpa, as I am with all of my grandparents. Not many 29-year-olds still have their grandparents, so I count my blessings everyday.
Anyway, all I can say is what a guy. My grandpa lived through some arduous times as a part of the Greatest Generation. His parents came here from Calabria, Italy in search of the American dream, just like many other immigrant families from around the world. They wanted a better life for themselves, for their children (all 12 of them), and America was it. And as many immigrant families know, it was no walk in the park. They had very little money and the work they were given was brutal and scarce. Not to mention the distasteful discrimination towards immigrants which could break a person’s soul. But that didn’t stop my grandpa.
He was one of the most genuine people I’ve ever known. I loved to just sit and talk with him and listen to his stories of the good ol days. Whether he was walking 5 miles to school in the pouring rain uphill both ways, facing a grizzly bear while stationed in the Army in Alaska, or meeting the love of his life, my grandmother Carmela, his stories captivated us all and really painted the picture of who my grandpa was.
The last year and a half or so, after my grandma passed away, my family lived with and cared for my grandpa. It was one of the most memorable experiences too and I consider myself lucky to have shared that time with him. Everyday he made me smile. Everyday.
Sometimes I sit and giggle about how cute he was. When it was time for bed and he’d get in his stairlift and say, “Up we go!” and give the thumbs up. And once he was all tucked in and done ‘Oh-ing’ and ‘Ah-ing’ through his bedtime routine, he’d give me a kiss goodnight and say, “Thank you for everything, God bless you, my Melissa. I love you.” Those memories will never leave my heart.
Now it’s that time of year again and everyone’s heading to the shore and spending time with their loved ones, filling their bellies with hamburgers and hotdogs and popsicles. I’ll be joining in on the festivities too and I’ll even probably have more than one popsicle. And as the fireworks boom and laughs are had, I’ll sing a little happy birthday song for a man who’ll always have my heart.
Happy 4th of July, everyone.
Happy Birthday, Grandpa.