“What did you most admire about your grandparents?”

One of my online groups, “Hearts Through History”, had this as a weekly topic. This is my entry.

My maternal grandpa was the best. Funny, clever and always ready to help.

He was an immigrant from Italy who left there old enough to remember bits about living there. He described the area around his home, and, when I later tracked down his village on the internet, it was exactly as he described it. He had great stories about his family, both in Italy and in Chicago. I learned about cousins and relatives I’d never know about otherwise, and the way Chicago was for an immigrant family.

Grandpa loved to talk about his varied jobs, from landscaper to grocer to Christmas Tree salesman. When he grew up, he became a machinist, lathe worker, and die-caster. He worked hard and was very accurate. He always bragged about his skill. When he visited our home in New Orleans, he always found a repair project to keep him busy and walked long distances every day no matter how hot it got.

I loved going to Chicago. It was a real treat, because I could explore areas grandpa told me about. My mom’s childhood home (which he built) was my favorite place to stay. I can still map out the house, though I haven’t been there in decades.

My now-husband was still my boyfriend in 2002, when I took him home to meet my family and attend grandpa’s 90th birthday.

Rich was worried about meeting my dad, of course, but it was my grandpa who cornered him to vet him and ask him questions. My grandpa took him to the garage and showed him his machinist tools (his prize possessions). Richard was unsure what to say, so he pointed out that he worked on computers, describing some of his tools. Grandpa’s face lit up. “Ah! An electrician’s tool box.” Grandpa instantly took a liking to him, and Richard relaxed with a “phew!”

He wasn’t perfect. In many ways, he was a man of his time, with certain ideas about ethnic groups and the limits of women. I never knew how much he really believed it, and which were off-handed comments using language of his youth. In personal relations, he seemed to judge on qualities like loyalty honesty and work ethic.

He got along well with many individuals at work that fell into those groups he referred to with negative stereotypes. My mom married into one of these groups (my dad’s a Polish-Lithuanian), and he never said my father was lazy or incompetent. I don’t know what he thought at first, but he never treated him badly while I knew him.

He generally gave credit where credit was due; he praised some African-American co-workers as hard workers who acted with more intelligence than many of their European counterparts, even as he used stereotypical voices when he related the stories.

My grandfather was a “skilled labor” blue-collar worker; he respected and understood that world. If you had a labor-related skill, you immediately had value because you could always find work. Yet he said one of his proudest moments was when my mom graduated college. That I did as well made him extra proud of me. He understood the value of higher education, even though the Great Depression derailed his own chances.

He was a fun conversationalist, a smart and capable worker, an excellent cook, and a great family man.

He would have turned 106 this month, and I still miss him.

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