Meanwhile, first thing I did, after assessing the situation, was plan my new life in Florida. I didn't know how long I'd be there on my own. So I searched my grandfather's kitchen cabinets, and saw a couple cans of tomato soup, so I figured I was covered in the food department. Then I went out back, and started exploring. It occurred to me I might need to find some way to make a living, so I gathered a bunch of stickygooks from the trees behind my grandfather's building. I don't know what these things are actually called, but I used to collect them with a friend of mine at Strawbridge Lake, near our house in New Jersey. We always knew them as stickygooks—brown pods, with a hard outer shell, filled with seeds and green sticky stuff. If you dry them out, you can shake them like maracas, so my idea was to decorate them and sell them, and if I couldn't find a market for them I told myself I'd at least have a nice collection going.
I was wearing a sundress, and I lifted the hem so the dress made a small basket in front of me, and gathered as many stickygooks as I could carry, and when my family pulled back up, I was out by the curb in front of my grandfather's building, trying to sell my wares to folks as they passed by.
I must have made quite a picture.
We've told that story into the ground in my family, and it always gets a good laugh at Sunday dinners, but we've never told it outside the safe harbor of our own family . . . until now. I share it here for the way it stands as a precious family memory, but also for the gracenote it offers to this one extended visit with my grandfather. There were all kinds of lessons in it. Self-reliance wasn't meant to be one of them, but there it is alongside the all-important lessons of forgiveness, tolerance, empathy, and all that good stuff.
We didn't always get it right, in our family, but we made the effort.
I fared a bit better in the grandfather department with my grandpop Chillano, my mother's father. Actually, he was pretty great with us kids. My grandmom Chillano was a jewel all around. She was beautiful on the inside and the outside. She had ocean blue eyes and dark blond hair. Although she came from limited means, she was always dressed to the nines and had an amazing fashion sense. We were extremely close to them throughout my childhood, and both my grandmother and grandfather had as much of a role in shaping me and my worldview as anyone.
My grandpop was a hardworking man with a fascinating background. He was one of those cantankerous old men that you couldn't help but love. He was born in New Castle, Delaware, but moved to the rural outskirts of Philadelphia by the time he was an adolescent. Throughout his life he had several different careers, which meant he had an endless supply of stories to tell his grandchildren. He was a foreman for the railroad.