Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Life With Poppy

Philip Multitasks - Early On

        The house that embraced Poppy was bought quickly.  Once the excitement of FINALLY having another child settled down, we realized there was no room for a new baby in out "starter mansion".  (In fact, the purchase AND move was rendered quicker by the fact that we didn't own any living room or dining room furniture and Philip's nursery had been packed away for years. Having an additional family member (with baby Julie already tucked in to her roomy nursery and Philip comfy in his room next to ours) living with us presented NO issues as Poppy's room was more 'furnished' than ours when Mom died.  He was good to stay but we splurged on new beige carpeting for him when he entered his "brown period".
        The 'Poppy/Philip' relationship had been well established.  His 'golden years' included many long hours in the Poppy spotlight:  forming what would become a lifetime love of baseball as a toddler, waving to Poppy from the outfield during his early Little League games, spending hours tinkering in the tool shed where all equipment was neatly hung and labeled on pegboards and - the best busy-ness - sitting for log periods of time in Poppy's car, behind the steering wheel, lovingly role playing "driver" with the keys, the signals, the radio and the serious dialogue with CB-ers in his imaginary capacity of 'character-of-the-day'.
        :Poppy's seemingly endless supply of imaginary characters coupled with an equally infinite ability to sit in one spot for hours patiently engaged in the day's game is, I'm sure, the hallmark of Poppy-the-sitter in the minds of many, many friends and neighbors.
        Julie was two years-old when he began THEIR life-long love affair.  An avid reader (possibly because it was another activity that involved sitting in one place for long periods of time), he slowly expanded her library, reading and re-reading her favorites countless times. 
        This is not to say that his interests were solely in sedentary activities.  Hardly.  A true 'man-of-all-seasons', Poppy loved summers at the seashore.  We used his gift of the proceeds from the sale of his house to build a cottage on the Outer Banks.  It became our family "Summer Headquarters" for the next thirty years.  (In fact, it serves the latest generation of berry-brown little 'fire plugs' as it did their parents.)  I daresay, signs that Poppy - like Kilroy - was here define the place.
        We furnished it in"Julie and Joe"  - period and modern.  The great room - hub of all indoor activity - still holds the games AND score tablets that were played for hours with family and friends at all stages of development.  (Poppy still holds the Scrabble record for points awarded one word.  Of course I don't/cannot recall the exact word but the strategy was adding "i-a-n" to an already existing, long noun, handily located in one of the corners and netting him not one but two red 'triple word' squares.  I know it's pencilled in on the original board and I DO recall "94" as the number of points.  (It was as if the word 'octagen' - if it exists - was extant and he turned it into 'octagenarian'.)  Of course we challenged him only to find this abstruse word in the dictionary.  VERY irritating.
Julie on Mom's team at cottage
        Of course we didn't ALWAYS form 'teams'.  Julie and Poppy often played alone - pinochle.  She may hold the record as the only seven year-old who beat her Grandfather at a game most seven year-olds (and their parents) don't even know how to play.  But the yellowed, scores-in-#-2-pencil showing larger totals in the 'Julie' column survived the sea air of thirty years on lined, spiral notebook paper.
        Similarly, all of the kids played Dominoes with Poppy.  The original tiles, stacked in their Scotch taped, ragged box, bear witness to the hundreds of competitive marathons that filled rainy afternoon hours so many summers ago.  That these children did well in math many seasons later could be rooted in the summer 'doings' that were De rigueur for them in the pre-television/electronic game/rental movie era.
        A powerful swimmer and graceful diver, Poppy was the darkest-skinned family member by summer's end.  His (brown) bathing trunks blended with the skin on his back after many long hours in the surf or standing watch at the shoreline.  Of course he was extremely 'tuned in' to the children's needs - what with the drain summer sun and fun can impose on fast-growing as well as long and slowing bones.  It was in the interest of this sensibility to the hale and hearty side of vacation activity that he maintained the rules directed to re-charging.
        Not only was it not safe to swim RIGHT after eating; the body needed a break and a cool room in the early afternoon.  What more efficient way to achieve these goals than a reading session.  Jennie was a particularly reluctant 'napper' but Poppy, dedicated as he was to preserving the schedule, often had to suffer the occasional imposed 'teach-by-example' methodology.  Success was not ALWAYS achieved and the whole family had to endure a 'cranky' Jennie-in-the-evening' ordeal occasionally but it was certain;ly not for lack of trying on Poppy's part.  He seemed always to be chipper and refreshed after dinner.  Hmmm. . . .
        During the school year, Poppy was an active participant in all things educational as well as extracurricular.  He ALWAYS did the grocery shopping during the day and tended to the afternoon naps-avec-reading sessions with the little ones.  But his most favorite activity was spectatorship.  His was a dual reward system in this arena: he got to see his offspring play a sport (in which he had played a part instructing or transporting to practice) and, always recognizable by his plaid fedora-for-all-seasons, he'd chat it up with the other parents and, more importantly, the other PLAYERS.
        You see, as time went on, we saw more of the children-of-broken-marriages.  Many didn't have grandparents able to attend games.  So Poppy was every one's 'poppy-for-all-seasons'.  It was a role he cherished.  Tired of asking a school chum of Philip's, "Where's your old man," he'd just BE there and I''d hear things like, "No, Mike.  You're lookin' good.  Season's young.  You'll get 'm next game."  And even when he wasn't familiar with the sport (rare, but field hockey and la crosse weren't big in Brooklyn) he'd throw out a, "Hang in there, Fiona.  Eye on the ball 'n watch that one's high stick!"
        I'm sure if I took a poll, there'd be many a guy or gal between 30 and 40 today who has a 'Poppy story' from 'back in the day.  This would be just as true of sports as it would be of "thee-ay-ter".  Lory's not forget those high-tappin' table-top impromptus.  He sure didn't.  He attended and loved every dance and musical theatre show the girls were in.  He often has a few pointers (no pun intended) too.  And when it was "Showtime, folks!", I'd look over at him In the dark - sure to see a tear or two rolling down his stubbed cheek in the back row.  Whether it was in acknowledgment of a perfectly executed time step by Julie or an unintended but hilarious string of wrong turns by Jennie, his blue eyes were mistin' because, ". . . that's my kid's kid."
        It was a busy household during a busy time in our lives and I like to think his part was more than that of an 'accidental but convenient diversion'.  Rather, he was an ESSENTIAL part of our survival.  Not a particularly ritualistic man when it came to religion, like his father before him, he had his own 'thing' going with God.  In fact, for a spell we were attending the only Latin Mass in town because the Catholic Church in our area had become quite liberal. The priest conducting this mass came down from New York every week and stayed at our house. (It was all so 'sub rosa' and deliciously annoying to the kids - AND Poppy.)
        Father X would stay in Philip's room (now on the third floor - finished attic; closer to God).  He'd arrive Saturday evening and we'd all be lined up and ready to go around 8 AM.  Except Poppy.  Every week, father would say, "Going to Mass, Mr. G.?"  And every week Poppy would smile and say, "You have a good one, Father.  Me?  Well God and I already talked.  So, I'll be makin' kielbasa and scrambled eggs for when they get home.  Too bad you have to catch that plane."  And we would go off in silence, knowing that it had NOT been a satisfactory exchange and wondering WHY Poppy didn't just stay in his room until the guy left.  And, too, we were trying to do what we thought was the right thing and the kids would 'quietly' giggle in the car all the way to mass.
        I guess there was no harm done and eventually, the Latin Mass parish disbanded.  Unfortunately, it was after Poppy's sudden death.  Unfortunate because Father X - MUCH to our disbelief, told us he would say a mass but would NOT permit us to bring the coffin into the church.  He said he couldn't because he had "first-hand knowledge" of Poppy's breach with the Church.
        The next day, he had ours.  We never returned.  Instead, we contacted our dear friend and former pastor of the "happening now" parish and he made arrangements to use the church building AND invited two other priest who had left that parish to co-celebrate.
        Soooo, Poppy, breach and all, had a huge funeral high mass, celebrated by THREE priests.  He always used to say, in moments of confusion or distress, "You live, you learn, and you die stupid."  And I would be thinking, "No.  I live stupid because I don't get that, Dad," to myself.  Somehow, during his SO well-attended, triple-header High Funeral Mass, I thought about what he said - and got it - fleeting was the 'get', but I did.
        One occasion that caused his iteration of his "motto" was not long after Mom's death.  We were at the cottage;  it was a hot summer day; we decided to go in to Nag's Head and shop for bathing suits in the AC.  We got to the strip mall and saw a new store - a Tee-Shirt Store selling shirts that had PERSONAL sayings on them.  It was 'all the rage' so we went in and everyone selected a shirt and a favorite saying in a favorite color.  Poppy wasn't interested.  After all manner of pleading, he gave in.
        "Well, what do you want to say on it," I asked.  He ignored me.  The kids then ganged up on him and he finally said, "Just call me Poppy."  The guy did just that.  On a dark brown t-shirt, the words - reversed out in white - "Just Call Me Poppy" were printed in a bold, non-serif type.  He loved it.
        Next we went to the department store.  Poppy stayed outside, patiently strolling our fourth baby while I took the other three in for new bathing suits.  When we came out - at least an hour later - he said, "Damnedest thing.  I know we've been coming down here for a few years now, but never thought so MANY people knew me."  He went on to tell us that the whole time we were shipping, cars were driving by on the mile post road and tooting their horns, drivers waving and shouting, "Hey! Poppy!".  He, of course, had obligingly waved back - wearing his new t-shirt.
        I waited until we got back to the cottage and the kids were trying on their suits for, "Dad.  Those folks - the ones waving?  They could all read," and I pointed to his brown 'sign'.  After a long pause, he smiled, then laughed. 
        "What's so funny?"
        "You live, you learn, and you die stupid," he chuckled. 

"Just Call Me Poppy"

Later, Lorane. . . .

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