The beginning of November always weighs heavily on me because it’s when my pappap’s birthday falls. I try not to let it bother me, but it’s like his ghost is always there, hovering. It’s not like I don’t want it to be, though, but that doesn’t make me feel any less sad. Part of me doesn’t want to “get over it”, no matter how many “friends,” family members, or therapists tell me to, because the hurt in my heart reminds me of who I am and where I came from.
I had wanted to post this photo last week on his proper birthday, but I couldn’t find it. I tore through all of my photo albums, to the point where I started to think that I had constructed the photo in my subconscious, and started to panic because I’m afraid to start forgetting things about him, like his loud laugh, or the way he would tap his pinky ring off the church pew and say, “One day this will be yours” (for the record, it’s not mine). I don’t want to forget about the time he got pickpocketed in Rome and remained so calm, yet lost his shit when some asshole grabbed the cab we were waiting for. How we would go on family vacations to Wildwood, NJ and he and I would sneak out for ice cream after everyone else went to bed. How he would listen to his Mike and the Mechanics tape in his truck and say, “This song reminds me of my father” every time “Living Years” came on.
And my photos of him, don’t even get me started on my photos of him. My aunt is so afraid I’m going to raid my grandma’s house of all the Lalique and jewelry when all I would actually take is every photo album I could carry in a potato sack. OK fine, and there’s the fucking fantastic sculpture of Marquis de Sade that I have always had my greedy eye on. I recently asked my aunt Sharon for the purple heart that he earned in WW2 and she got completely spastic on me. I don’t have anything of his. I don’t want it for materialistic reasons, for greed, I just want to have something that he once held. I don’t care at this point if it’s a scrap of a shirt. My family won’t let me have anything and that’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes. I guess it’s my punishment for being the black sheep.
But I finally found the birthday photo the other night, in this big red velvet album full of my baby pictures. I’m guessing from the not-yet jaded look in my eyes that this was back in 1980. Chooch and I sat on the couch and pawed through the album and every time we turned a page to find his face perma-glued onto the yellowed backing. I would proudly say, “That’s my PAPPAP,” like a kid boasting the best toy ever during show and tell. And that’s what makes it suck even harder lately, not the fact that I don’t have that shiny toy to brag about anymore, but that Chooch never got to know him. And those two would have been crazy about each other.
My pappap was the one who made all of my birthdays amazing. He raised the bar so high that sometimes, in his death, I don’t even want to bother to celebrate my big day. And looking back, I realize that aside from a lousy birthday cake, no one ever really did anything for his birthday. If I could have one last chance, one last opportunity to light up some trick candles, I’d make sure he knew for real how much everyone loved him. I guess he did know, even in the absence of actions, but still. He deserved a party. A really fucking lavish party. With clowns and twenty bottles of Dom. Or, at the very least, a card with all these sentiments scrawled in ink.
He never expected anything from any of us: my brothers, my mom, my aunts, or my grandma. All he wanted was happiness for everyone, and it seemed like so much of the time, someone was always mad at him, always for materialistic bullshit.
This was Halloween, 1983. I found it during my search for the birthday cake photo. I can guarentee that whoever took this photo, whether it was my mom or grandma, someone was pissed that my pappap was walking past in the background. I’m certain there was an annoyed hiss of, “You ruined the picture, John!” but for me, I look at this and think, “Oh good, another picture of my pappap,” and I bet the rest of them would think the same thing.