In November of 1981, I was a whopping eight years old when my grandfather died. At that time, we lived on a dead-end street in McKeesport, PA, and I routinely walked a half-mile to and from school each day on my own—I can’t believe that I walked that far when I was less than ten. I remember walking in the door, and my family was mournful. I felt, and was afraid, that I personally had done something wrong, but they informed me that my grandfather abruptly died.
I don’t have many retrievable memories from my relationship with him, but my understanding is that my dad’s dad was quite a unique character, interests dotted by motorcycles and guns. Unfortunately, I can only remember a handful of mental pictures, afternoons spent at his old farmhouse including his black poodle named Peppy and one day when he showed me his polished rocks. For some reason, maybe I displayed my innate curiosity for all shiny things, he gave me a sample of a smooth bloodstone. To this day, I have that stone in my box of personal mementos. In an earlier story, I photographed a sampling of my important trinkets, tchotchkes, and tokens, and from that image you can see the stone in addition to a Morgan Silver Dollar that is featured as today’s subject matter.
The coin was once assembled in a metal frame, attached to a marble slab—housing components misplaced or broken long ago—and it functioned as a paper weight. I was told that this memento originated from my grandfather, thus I have kept it for all of these years. Dated as 1883, the coin is ancient by modern standards—some quick arithmetic tells me that I’m holding an object that is 134 years old. I have a difficult time wrapping my head around that.
While my childhood memories prior to that day exist, of shady variety and in minimal quantity, the death of my grandfather was a pivotal point in my life. Once he died, we moved from that house on Grandview Avenue, and occupied my grandfather’s brick farmhouse in Elizabeth, PA. The one incident of his death, changed everything for me, most likely in ways that I will never fully know. In the fall, starting fresh and anew, I began Fourth Grade in Elizabeth Forward—a much better school district, new friends, new neighborhood, and new world to explore.
While I could make the statement that I miss my grandfather, it wouldn’t be entirely accurate because I didn’t really know him that well, or—at least—I don’t retain many memories of him to focus upon, to be sorrowful, or to be mournful. The best, and most honest, reflection that I can come up with is I Wish I Knew You. Every once in a grand while, I will try to find his grave on the hillside in the McKeesport & Versailles Cemetery. Probably around ten years ago, I had a lucid dream where he was a taxi driver, and I the passenger. So, his memory does live on, in minor formats within my life.
As my children interact with my father—their dad’s dad—I wish the very same for them. I wish for them to have an opportunity for them to know my dad, and to appreciate his unique character. While we only see my dad once a year, sometimes more infrequently than that, I cherish all and any moments that we can spend with each other, because you never know when everything will end abruptly or the relationship will just fade away someday, in one form or another.
Life is precious, grab on to it with everything that you have, and never let go. Do not leave a personal legacy that could be summed up by someone with the following statement: I Wish I Knew You.