Kevin’s grandpa, the steady and solid Vito Beto, died peacefully at the end of October, age 93.
He’s a tough person to write about because he was a simple man who spent most of his life doing the same things day in and day out. He worked one job his whole life, at a wallpaper factory, and the day he was eligible for retirement he just didn’t show up and that was that. He ate the same sandwich for most of his years there (minced ham). In World War II they told him not to take his shoes off and he thought they meant for the rest of your life. (It was so hard to get the man out of his shoes.)
Every Sunday we brought Grandpa donuts. He’d choose the same one every time–a chocolate long john. He’d ask the same questions every Sunday. “How are your parents doing?” “Any new neighbors?” “The boys out of school yet?” He’d ask these questions over and over during donut hour and we’d answer them the same way each time. And each time he’d be pleased with the answer.
The questions, they made everything feel safe and comfortable. The rest of the world might be moving and changing too fast, but when you were with Great Grandpa, nothing changed. It felt like nothing needed to.
But then, every once in a while, you’d say something like, “Vincenzo is in a play,” and Grandpa would light up and say, “I was in a play once.” What? This is something new! “I played a mouse,” he’d add. We’d want to know more. We’d ask him questions. He’d take a bite of his chocolate long john and say, “How are your parents doing?” We’d squirrel away the little piece of information and add it to the lore of Grandpa. The stories of his long-ago past didn’t seem to match up with the quiet man sitting with us.
Like how he grew up in extreme poverty during the depression, surviving by collecting bits of coal or old bricks to sell. Or how manned an anti-aircraft gun in WWII. And how he fell in love with a girl before he joined the service, and he’d send her Valentine cards that came in boxes, signed by Vito, a curlicue hanging from the bottom of his V. Grandpa wrote her love letters from overseas. “My dear, darling Violet,” they’d begin. “Do you still want to marry me?” Of course, she did, and lucky for all whose lives were given or made golden by that marriage.
When Grandma died a few years back, Grandpa did not want to go on. He wanted to go to sleep and not wake up, but he kept waking up anyway. It felt unfair. Grandma was the love and purpose of his life. In his last weeks, Grandpa sometimes saw her. He could hear singing, and he said they were singing his name.
Of course, it’s hard to say goodbye. It’s hard knowing there is someone else in Grandpa’s room at “the club,” as he called the nursing home. It is hard when Sunday morning comes and goes without our hour sitting in his 100-degree room, answering the same questions over and over again, comforted by the predictability of it all.
But it’s a good thing, because Grandpa is finally where he wanted to be.
After all these years, after all those minced ham sandwiches and Sunday mornings and chocolate long johns, Grandpa was finally ready for a change.
Together again. And together is where they are happiest.
WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Potato gnocchi with chicken sausage and broccolini