So often I find myself feeling just a little jealous of other people who knew and had relationships with their grandfathers.  Whether they have one or both in their life, they always seem so lucky to me.  They get one (or two) more person(s) to dote on them, send them cards, and tell them they are loved.  

I didn’t know either of my grandfathers.  My Grandpa Anderson died on New Year’s Eve 1968, and my Nanu Aiello was gone shortly after that.  And I was born in 1970, so I just missed them both.

I was thinking about this on my cab ride home from work tonight.  Funny how being at the mercy of someone else’s crazy driving gets you thinking about things like this.

My sister and I never knew our grandfathers, and now, her daughters will not know theirs.

My brother-in-law’s dad died some years before he met my sister.  His mom remarried and is still with him today, so the girls do have a step-grandpa.  And, of course, our dad died in 2006.

All throughout our lives, my sister and I have only had pictures and memories from our parents and grandmothers to help us understand what our grandfathers were like.  We never heard their voices or their laughs, or got to hear them say our names.  It was like something was missing.  

My cousin’s Grandpa lived through most of her childhood and through her teen years.  He was the only grandfatherly figure in my life.  I remember when I was very young– probably about 6 or 7 at the most– I was talking to him at a family gathering, and I distinctly remember asking him, “Will you be my Grandpa?” 

I remember him responding, “Why sure, Ricky, I would love to be your Grandpa, but I can only be your pretend Grandpa, because you will always have your real Grandpas.  Can I be your pretend Grandpa?”  

And I remember saying, “Sure!” and he shook my tiny hand, and the deal was sealed.

Years later when he passed away, his wife came to me and reminded me of that story.  “He was so honored that you asked him that,” she said.  “He never forgot it.  He loved you kids (my sister and I) as if you were his grandkids, just as I do.” She asked if I would be pallbearer at his funeral — the first time I had ever done such a thing.  Of course, I said yes.

Now with my nieces just about to turn three months old, I think of how unfortunate it is that they will never know their grandfathers.  They will have lots of pictures to show them what they looked like, and lots of stories from their parents, uncles and grandmas; and at least on our side of the family, they will even have family movies and a few audio recordings of my dad’s voice so they can know what he moved and sounded like.   But that won’t take the place of actually having a grandfather in their lives.  

So they have loving and doting grandmothers, two crazy uncles that are as crazy for them as they are themselves (yes, I am one of those uncles), and a step-grandpa who is related only by marriage, but undoubtedly loved completely.  I’d say they’re two very lucky little tykes.  

The girls are going to Grandma’s house for the first time this weekend, and of course we are all excited. 

I’ve always said that our family is small, but it’s mighty.  Some things, I guess, never do change.

Our Guardian Angel

My sister and I are pretty sure that we share a common guardian angel.

Her complications with the pregnancy were stressful and scary, but in the end she is fine and so are the babies.  She is now at home resting– as she will be for the next few months. 

Some higher power wouldn’t let anything happen to those babies.  Whatever it was… and whoever it was… we are, of course, eternally grateful.

But that higher power didn’t stop with my sister.  He– or she– but probably he– was watching over me, too.

Friday I was on my way up to Evanston to see my sister in the hospital after work.  I was driving down Lake Shore Drive, and I noticed that the car wasn’t responding like it usually did.  My car has a manual transmission.  It took longer to accelerate, and when it did accelerate, it felt very rough.  I was concerned, but I forged onward.

I got off of Lake Shore Drive and came to a stop, where the car died.  I restarted the car, and when I tried to accelerate, it barely moved.  I knew this wasn’t going to end well.  So I detoured off my path and headed toward home.

I was able to get the car on my street, and found a parking spot.  I attempted to park the car, but by that time any acceleration was completely lost.  I tried changing gears, but nothing would work.  I was stuck in the middle of my street– half in and half out of a parking spot.  SHIT!

I called the garage that services my car.  They recommended a towing company, and I called and arranged a tow.  So there I sat– right in front of my apartment, blinkers going, in the way of traffic, waiting for a tow.

About 10 minutes later, a tow truck slowed down behind me.  Now mind you, my street is more residential than anything, but it is rather busy… and there are a few repair garages around the corner, so tow trucks do frequent the area a lot.  This guy slowed down and asked me if I was waiting for a tow truck.  I said yes, figuring he was my guy.  He responded that he wasn’t, but he’d be happy to help me out.  He then asked me how much the towing company was charging me, which was $60.  He offered a tow for $40.  I said “You’ve got a deal!”

Ten minutes later, my car was safely parked at the gas station (which, thankfully, was only a block away from my street).  All I had in my wallet was $35, and the guy took it with no arguments at all.  I got his card.  There are GOOD PEOPLE in the world after all.

After I was home and settled in, I made all the phone calls– told Mom I was stuck and not coming up, and told my sister I couldn’t see her that night. 

The next morning the garage called with the damage– a burned-out clutch.  Holy shit!

If that would have happened on the highway, I would have been royally screwed.

They checked everything else on the car and everything looked fine– so this was definitely a necessary repair.  It’s expensive as hell, though, at $800.  Sigh. 

But still, I can’t deny that it could have been so much worse.

I did get up to see my sister on Sunday.  I got on the El for the first time since my kidney stones in May– and it all went fine.  The El station was right next to the hospital, so it was no problem at all to get there.  

Our visit was one of the most meaningful and touching in our recent history.  We were alone– no parents, no husband, no family– just us.  It was the first time we had actually been alone with each other since we were kids.  We talked a lot, cried a little, and shared a lot of things we haven’t been able to share in a long time.  And, of course, I got to see my sister… pregnant.  To say I was moved is a major understatement.

She looked tired, but radiant.  But most of all, she looked happy.  She knew her babies were OK, and she was OK.  And that’s all she wanted. 

When we got to the subject of Dad, we both teared up.

“I wish he was here right now, Rick.”  She said.  “He would be so happy.”

“He is, Beth.”  I replied.  “He’s here, and he’s happy.   And he loves us both so much.  I think we have an extra-special guardian angel up there looking out for us.”

“Yep, I think so, too,” she said. 

Funny thing about family.  No matter how big or small yours is… the bond of family is something that can never be broken.  I think it only gets stronger as we get older.   Even the craziest, knock-d0wn-drag-out fights can never tear those ties. 

I’m a pretty lucky guy.  I may be alone in the relationship department, but I am surrounded by lots of really wonderful people– both here and beyond.  And no matter how bad things get, that thought gets me through to see another day. 

I guess I’m not all that alone after all.