Diaries Magazine

Mr. Mcalpin

By Danielleabroad @danielleabroad
What's the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish funeral?
One less drunk.
-the last joke my grandfather told my mom mr. mcalpin
It's hard to say that I was *close* to my grandpa. When I was little I spent a lot of time at his and my grandmother's house, the one my mother had grown up in, but he was usually in his room watching television, eating Fig Newtons. He wasn't one to play with the kids in the same way my grandma would. But he was there, always, whether it be at home or a school play or a family vacation.
One time we'd gone to Fire Island with my Aunt Linda and uncle Jean-Jacques. I'd been basking in the glory of having introduced myself to a group of kids playing on a peddle boat. They were nice, cool, fun. But then I got bit by a crab. I stumbled out of the water fighting back tears and was relieved when I saw grandpa in the distance. I waved to him for help. He waved hello back and then laid back to sunbathe. My grandmother wasn't thrilled with that response when she found me crying. He hadn't realized, of course.
My grandpa was the one that took me and grandma to church all those times. I could often convince him to take us to the diner after, or if I'd spent the rest of the morning and afternoon with them, out for ice cream. On that note, summer Fridays were a surefire way to get a trip to Carvel because they had the vintage car show in the parking lot, which he loved.
While he still had his boat in the Long Island Sound, he'd sometimes pick me up early morning (I'd better have been ready!), grab deli sandwiches and sodas, and take me out fishing. My grandma only occasionally joined. It was the kind of quiet activity you might picture a grandfather doing with his grandson, but I was the eldest and my brother was too young. It only made me feel special.
I brought him straws to chew on whenever I could, a habit he'd picked up after he insisted they stop smoking when I'd been born. Occasionally, I'd go see what he was tinkering with in his garage. The garage was filled with tools and duct tape and a single poster of Lunch Atop a Skyscraper. If he was in a good mood, he'd entertain my questions about why they were up there and if he knew them and what it was like to grow up in New York City. He'd been born there in 1928.
During the wintertime, he and my grandma would escape to Florida. We visited them a handful of times. Beyond that, I remember how exciting a day it was when they came back; especially when my sister was a baby and we weren't sure if she'd remember them. She did.
Years later, when my Aunt MaryAnn was in labor with my first cousin, he took me down to the cafeteria for a snack. We'd been at the hospital for hours. I was 13 years old. I asked him what could be taking so long and, without flinching, he replied that my petite aunt's hips were widening so she could push the baby out. It was lite-medical explanation for sure, but looking back I admire him for being so candid. I had friends at the time who'd be embarrassed to ask their moms such things let alone their grandfathers.
My grandpa loved old music. He'd listen at home and in the car and even sing sometimes. He certainly didn't have a good voice, but his lyrical memory was entertaining. He joked, dryly, all the time, without so much as a giggle. No matter how much he would repeat a joke, the seriousness of delivery managed to keep it funny. He wore suspenders. He carried a camera, and a hankerchief.
And he softened with age. Once, while living in Manhattan after college graduation, I called my grandfather to wish him a happy birthday. I was walking through Chelsea to meet a friend at the time. He'd had a very good day and, unprovoked, starting talking about how different his childhood neighborhood had become. I remember being so touched by our collective family memory. He closed with telling me how proud he was of me and thanking me for calling.
Not too long ago, following a surgery, he moved in with my parents. Though it was a lot to handle, I'd like to think it was a cherished opportunity for my mom to get to know her father in a different capacity than she ever had before. I, too, on visits home, learned unexpected snippets. Oh, and my gosh was he was funny! One time, I was critiquing my mom'a new haircut: "It makes your head look like Frankenstein's", I said, neither tactful nor kind. "My head is square, look where I came from," she retorted, pointing at her dad. He'd been sitting on the couch, assumedly not paying attention to our superfluous conversation, and at that moment he slowly stood up, but his arms straight out in front of him, and groaned... like Frankenstein. My mom and I broke out into laughter.
My grandfather was hardly perfect, but he adored my grandmother, helped my parents purchase their first house, and, if the number of men and women from AA who attended his wake is any indication, touched more lives than we'll ever really know. He passed away at home at the age of 89 on May 30th. He had been in Hospice and not doing well and I miss him dearly. May he rest in peace.

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