My grandparents have always made the perfect pair. I could almost guarantee that no matter the circumstance, when I would walk into their home in Pleasant Hills, Pennsylvania, my grandmother would tell me that she thought I was losing weight – even though I’ve weighed the same amount for the last five years. Then, my grandfather would feed me copious amounts of ice cream.
If there was one Italian stereotype my grandfather fit into, that was it. He constantly wanted to feed us. I remember sitting on their sofa one night, reading a book while Wheel of Fortune droned on in the background. He asked if I wanted ice cream and I, presumably full from a big dinner and likely lemon meringue pie, declined. I’ve never seen a smile fade faster.
I ate ice cream that night.
My grandfather, Mr. John J. Framiglio, was born in 1921, the middle child to Italian immigrants who would have nine kids in total. As a teenager, he joined the United States Navy where he served for over 6 years during World War II.
After the war, he became the first in his family to attend college. That’s where he met my grandmother. He and Rose would be married for 66 years. They would raise four incredible kids and go on to have many more grandchildren and great grandchildren. My grandparents, while both very independent in their own right, complemented each other perfectly. They were simply better because of the other person.
In his 97 years of life, my grandfather worked hard, lived honestly, and taught us all what it means to be a good human. I feel incredibly blessed that my 24 years of life have overlapped with him. He has been instrumental in guiding me through life through his teaching, his service, and perhaps most importantly, his love.
Grandpa was a teacher through and through – and not just to the business and history students he taught at a high school in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Growing up outside of Pittsburgh, one of my earlier memories was Eat N Park, the Pennsylvania diner famous for their Smiley Cookies. While waiting for a table, grandpa and I would watch through the glass as the bakers added the infamous icing smile to the sugar cookies.
At home, the learning continued. His bookshelf was always full and if there was ever a word I didn’t know or something I was interested in, well, that’s what the dictionary and the encyclopedia are for. He would read articles from the newspaper or the latest health magazine out loud while I bounced on the sofa with the kind of energy reserved for an elementary school student.
He also had a solution for everything. Anything could be fixed with a little bit of duct tape. I think everybody in my family has a pair of toe nail clippers with rubber bands or masking tape on the handle so they would be easier to hold. He always knew the best way to organize a space or remember directions. He taught me to see the world around me and he taught me that some of the most important learning comes outside of a school house.
Sometimes, learning happens through service. My grandpa lived for others and lead by example. Whether through his years of service at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank or his time as a member of the Kiwanis Club or his work as a Deacon at the Pleasant Hills Community Presbyterian Church, Grandpa believed in taking care of other people. Through his church, he served on mission trips from Arizona to West Virginia to Costa Rica.
On the other hand, he also served his family. I remember when my grandparents came to visit there was always something to do. He would help pick tomatoes in my dad’s garden or go on a walk with my dog and I. He was never too busy to help, never too tired to advise. When I moved to New York City, I made sure to call my grandparents each week. Every single week as I was ending my conversation with my grandfather, he would tell me to “watch who I ran with up there.” It was his way of keeping me safe even when there was physical distance between us.
Perhaps the greatest gift of all, though, remains love. My grandfather loved everyone. Five months before his passing, he and my grandmother moved into an assisted living home about 15 minutes from my parent’s house. I was able to spend a lot of time with him there and one thing I immediately noticed is how he greeted everyone with a smile. As we walked down to dinner he always had time to wave and say hello – often times to people he hadn’t met or didn’t know.
And boy did he have a smile. My grandpa could light up the room with his smile and make a heart melt with his laugh. Whether chuckling at something a baby did in a television commercial or smiling at my dog for bringing him a stuffed animal, my grandpa genuinely cared for everyone he met.
And he loved my grandma. Married for 66 years, they are the reason I believe in love. It was the little ways he would check in to make sure she was warm enough (my grandpa was always cold) or offer to share some of his food if he thought she (or any of us) weren’t eating enough. He loved being a husband, a father, and so on. And we loved him for it.
About a week and a half before he passed, he was sleeping in his recliner. My grandmother and I were sitting next to him working on a crossword puzzle. I was slouched with my chin resting on my hand, a pencil sticking out from between my fingers.
He woke up for a moment, looked around, and saw the pencil point near my face. He told me to watch that thing near my face there. It was too close to my eye.
Then he fell back to sleep.
Always a teacher. Until the very end.
On December 31st, 2018, at 7:10 in the morning, my grandfather passed away from congestive heart failure and for once, I couldn’t find words. I didn’t know how to put onto paper all the wonderful that he was. How do you confine a life so vibrant to black and white text?
A few moments ago, I was shifting around my childhood bedroom, halfheartedly “cleaning” when I found a tiny Ziploc back with a crucifix inside. The crucifix was being held together by two bread bag ties, an obvious sign that my grandpa had been there.
And these words came from there.
I will never in a million lifetimes be able to properly articulate the ways my grandfather impacted my life. I will never be able to say thank you enough. But I am so grateful that I had the chance to hold his hand, to pull the blanket down over his feet just as he liked it, and to say I love you one more time.