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Photo of Joseph Sisco.
Born 2/26/1900, Died 1/25/1958 (Discolored masking tape, once used to tape it to glass) remains on the photo.

 My Grandpa Died

By Frank Sisco
Copyright 1999 Frank Sisco

 An essay about the death of the writer's grandfather when the writer was 9 years old.


I remember the morning clearly. I was 9 years old, and full of vigor, and in love with my grandparents, especially my grandpa, who was like a second father to me. I was his first grandchild. Grandpad and my grandmother, who we called Nonnie, lived on the first floor of our three-family house, with my parents, my brother and I on the third floor and my father's brother Joe and his family on the second floor. My grandpa was the head of the whole house, and we all respected and loved him dearly.

Often my Saturdays began for me with having early breakfast with my grandparents. On that Saturday in January in 1959, it was a little before 8:00 am, and my grandpa was sitting on the right side of the kitchen table pushed up against the wall. Nonnie (she turns 91 in 1999), sat on the left side and me in between them. He was telling me about his life, from the beginning, and how he came to America and how he met Nonnie and their romance and where they worked, and about forty stories, all the while he was teasing her, telling fibs and she would correct him. He was always joking, when he was not losing his temper. I knew he had a heart of gold. Everyone knew. And he had loads of friends. Hundreds and hundreds. So there I was in between them, both of them clarifying their memories for me. Me asking questions. The three of us kidding and laughing. I want to go back to that table. I want to go right now and have my grandpa back with me. Talking with me. Loving me. And loving my Nonnie.

What a difference a day makes, the song warns. Well, at about 5 p.m. they had an argument. A bad one. He left in a huff and went to see a wrestling match at Westchester County Center with two of his friends. At about 7 pm while sitting at my kitchen table upstairs with my family, the phone rang. Loudly. My father’s face turned to shock and white, and he yelled "Dad’s had a heart attack" and ran down to get his brother Joe to go to the center, but it was too late. Grandpa was dead. I thought of the loss to me. Never to tell me more stories. Never to take his hand and mess up my hair, lovingly. Or give me the Barber’s Itch. Never to warn me not to go into the tool section of the basement. Never to be Santa Claus on Christmas. Never to feed his parakeet Happy a slice of an apple as he sat on his shoulder, as he held court for his entire family around the dining room table, us all loving the togetherness. Never to let me love him more. Taken from me on the day that was the best day of my life when he told me all those great stories.

The house was bedlam. People crying and sobbing and some screaming. My grandmother was uncontrollable, wailing, especially because of regretting that their last time together was spent bickering. Many of my aunts, uncles, and cousins lived within blocks and they came to our house, trying to help. I’m sure they meant well when they did not allow me to attend his wake or funeral, in the fear that it would hurt me too badly actually seeing him lying dead. I was told the line to get into the wake stretched out the door and up the block - he was so loved by the community. Not attending, I wasn't able to get the closure that wakes and funerals often give. To this day, wakes and funerals remind me of my grandpa and that the most important wake and funeral of all, at least up until now, I missed.

There’s no question that this death and aftermath had a major influence on my life. But as I grew older and into my teens, I came to look beyond my own feelings, and to more fully appreciate that many other people, not just me, lost someone who was so very special to them. After all, my Nonnie lost her husband. My Dad and his brother lost their father. One very positive outgrowth of Grandpa's death for me was that it gave me, at a very young age, an appreciation for how very fragile and precarious are our lives. And to squeeze every ounce out of life because you never know when you might be taken. And, perhaps most importantly, to treasure your loved ones, for your time with them is truly precious.