Memory Lane: Grandpa Frank

My mom’s dad — and Olympia’s husband — had some interesting sayings.

“When not in use, turn out the juice.”

“‘I see,’ said the blind man, as he picked up his hammer and saw.”

“Know what I mean, Jellybean?”

That’s what he used to call me: Jellybean — and Twiggy. (Hey, I was a skinny kid.) I used to protest Jellybean as a nickname because I didn’t like jellybeans; still don’t for that matter. “Well, what do you like?” he would ask. “String beans,” I would say.

Yeah, I was a weird kid, too.

My grandfather was, for me, the quintessential old Italian man. He was incredibly stoic, often grumpy. He didn’t say a lot. He had a garden and a plum tree that he cultivated, and while it looked as if he wore the pants in the family, looking back, I think my grandmother ruled the roost from the kitchen. Grandpa drank dago red — probably made in the basement — at Sunday dinners. He hated Germans (Krauts he called them) and Jews — which is something I never understood. Not that he was pretty racist (hey, it was a different, less politically correct time), but that he chose these two groups for his specific ire. It seems to me you would kind of love Germans if you hated Jewish people, or hate Germans but like Jewish people.

His basement was a treasure trove. He had a workbench with a vise, and numerous jars filled with nuts, bolts, screws, washers, and just about any other small metal object you can think of, plus magnets galore. To this day, I have no idea what he did with this stuff. He also had a garage simply filled with useless junk and toys from Marx Toys, where he and my grandmother had worked.

One of the things I remember the most about my grandfather was how he would look after my little sister when she was sick and my mother had to go to work. My mother didn’t go back to work full time until Krissy was in first grade, so we never were really in daycare. Whenever Dr. Sis would get too sick for school, Mom would call Grandpa, and he would come over.

My sister has fond memories of this time. They bickered constantly and they were best friends. My grandfather used to poke, and poke, and poke. “Noooooo,” my sister would whine when he antagonized her. Yet, she brought out the sweetness in him. I honestly don’t think any of us grandchildren got him to smile the way Krissy did. I believe he used to make her egg drop chicken noodle soup, too. He made her feel better, always, every time.


My Kate — who shares a birthday with Dr. Sis — has been running a fever since Sunday afternoon. (As an aside: I have noticed a pattern with Kate: when she is run down — if a day or weekend has been over-the-top busy, she will spike a temperature that lasts a few days. I’m going to talk to her pediatrician about it. Maybe it’s a chicken egg thing: She is run down and a bug she has been fighting off takes advantage of a weakened immune system, or she picks up a bug because she’s run down. But I don’t know, and I think I should talk to a doctor.)

She has been hanging out with her Tadone — her Italian grandfather. He’s different than Grandpa Frank — much more cheerful, for one! — but I see the same kind of dynamic with the two of them. He calls Kate “a pistol”, and she is, and they share a love of music and YouTube videos.

Hey, it’s better than Fox News.

Seeing them together reminded me of Krissy and Grandpa Frank. Right down to the antagonizing. “Bob the Sponge.” “Spongebob, Tadone!” “Bobbie the Spongie.” “Noooo, Tadone, Spongebob.” Said with an Italian accent, “Sponge-a Bob-a.” “Taadoooone!”

I hope their love for each other is just as enduring.