My Grandpa Bob arrived yesterday to visit us for a few days. He’s a sprightly 90 years young — born in Elizabeth, NJ on January 29, 1923. I called him this year to wish him a happy 90th birthday on the day I got home from the hospital with Vivian, who was born just two days before he turned the big 9-0 and rolled into a new decade of life. I remember exactly where I was sitting in my house when I called him with my new baby in my arms. It was a doubly profound moment. Not every one is fortunate enough to live into their 90’s and beyond, or see great-grandchildren, but these are only a few things that make Grandpa Bob so special.
In the past, I have wanted to write about him, but I’ve been overwhelmed by where to start? I’ve known him my whole life and he’s been there for me through birthday’s, holidays, graduations, visits, Disney World, camping trips, weddings, baptisms, and other special occasions. His involvement is my life is important to me, but it only accounts for a small bit of the overall schema of his life, including the 57 years I didn’t know him before I was born. I’ve come to realize I will never ever be able to archive his entire life into one blog post, but his life is too important not to share even if only tidbits of our time together during this particular visit. Today I’m letting some of our conversations roll onto the page as I “interview” him.
We started talking late last night about his service in World War II from 1942-1945. He easily recalled that he served three years and twenty-one days in what was then The Army of the United States. His service to our country always seems most important this time of year since Veteran’s Day was just two days ago. In addition, World War II Vets are harder and harder to come by. Talking to him and writing about his life feels like a proper way to honor him. I’ll never understand the war stories he lived, and thank God for that, but it is men like him who made ultimate sacrifices for the present day privileges he fought for. I learned new facts about his service that I’ve never asked him about. For example, he enlisted in New Jersey and was first sent to Georgia and assigned to the 536th AAAW anti-aircraft battalion before serving in North Africa, the Island of Gozo, the Island of Malta before the invasion of Sicily, and then finally Anzio Beach in Italy from the end of January 1944 until the war ended in 1945. He spent his 21st birthday on the 29th of January in 1944 in Anzio Beach – there were 53 air raids that day, he recalls.
His service ended in November 1945 when he was discharged the day after Thanksgiving that year. I asked him in a brief lapse in our conversation, “Do you remember all of those three years clearly or only parts?” He laughed and said, “Yeah, I remember them clearly, why wouldn’t I?” with a chuckle. I smiled and said, “I don’t know, I’m not 90 so I have no idea how the mind works at your age.” We paused and smiled together before he continued. He is definitely one of the admirable ones with a keen mind for dates, numbers, and details. His long-term memory is truly fascinating.
From recollections of bailing hay as a teenager to reciting every new car he ever owned starting with his first car – a 1930’s four-door Plymouth Sedan – Grandpa Bob is no slouch for specifics. He paid $50 for the car and $50 for insurance. As he rattled on about the years, makes and models of about 25 other cars I tried to keep up – the man loves cars. He didn’t even skip a beat and easily told me the car he drove in 1980 when I was born – a 1978 Chrysler Newport.
After all the car talk I was most interested to learn about his employment with American Type Founders for 37 years. He used to make the print type which required a four-year apprenticeship to learn. This job involved precise letter placement so they would line up and the print would appear written in script. This led us to a great conversation about The Palmer Method, an early and popular method to teach a standardized system of handwriting. Students were taught rhythmic motions and eventually how to join letters together in a cursive style of handwriting. Today most kids probably have no idea what The Palmer Method is or even penmanship for that matter, but I remember learning it in 5th grade from one of my most favorite teachers.
From Grandpa Bob’s first job to his favorite Volkswagen to some of the deeply personal experiences he endured in the war to volunteering for the Fire Department in Green Brook, NJ, I am truly enjoying my visit with Grandpa Bob. I even took him to The Wise Old Owl’s with me today and together he and Charlotte learned that her late husband was in Anzio Beach the same time he was during World War II. Watching the two of them talk about the good old days after the war while simultaneously playing with my children couldn’t help but make me smile. After our visit with Charlotte, I took him to Chick-fil-A to expose him to different kind of fun and eat-your-lunch-then-you-can-play battle between Mom’s and crazy kids. I know he had a great time as evident by the way he humored the children, talked to my Mom friends and strangers alike.
Unbelievably, he still makes the drive from Pennsylvania to Florida every fall to escape the cold weather. Then in the spring he does the reverse and drives himself from Florida back to Pennsylvania for the summer. He’s been doing this since the winter of 1985-86. My late Grandma Clara, and the love of his life, accompanied him up until 2009 after which she passed away the following year. They were married 57 years and he, as do I, misses her so much. We frequently share stories and memories of her.
Since living in Danville, I have been lucky enough to have him stay with us twice a year on his way to and from winter and summer destinations. He has seen both of my children as tiny babies and several times in between then and now. And would you believe this? He owns and computer and follows my blog regularly. I daresay he is my favorite follower – Lord knows he is definitely the oldest!
I asked him what the secret to longevity is in this life and he simply said, “Live a clean, honest life and love the person you are with.” I’d agree wholeheartedly with him, but then also add that his love for card games, dominoes, bingo, and an active lifestyle in retirement have most certainly played a significant role in his stellar mental and physical health.
I’ll wrap up be speaking directly to you, Grandpa Bob, because I know you will read this entry.
In my opinion, too many people don’t get much of anything written about them until after they die, but today, this one is for you. Even though it’s deeply deserving of more words, more pictures, more stories, and more sentiments, I hope you can appreciate a humble tribute from a gal who loves you very much. You told me when Vivian was born that I could plan a 10th birthday party for her and a 100th birthday party for you in succession in 2023 so I will remind you today – nine years, two months, and 16 days to go. I’ll hold you too it, Gramps. Who knows what car you’ll be driving then?
Love and hugs.