My first thought on this 4th of July was "what do I post about? I really and truly feel I said everything I wanted to say about the holiday itself a few years back." That post is here and it's not terribly long but it says exactly how I feel about my country and this holiday.
What it doesn't talk about is Grandpa. And I can't celebrate the 4th without thinking of him for a rather simple and sad reason. He passed away on the July 4th, 2007 with fireworks in the air.
Sometimes I think I miss him more with every firework. How do I describe my Grandpa? Tough. Gritty. He had a voice like gravel rubbing together, and had been a Marine. When he was younger he could tear a pack of playing cards in half, he was that strong. He was a boxer, a soccer player, worked most of his life for the same company. When he was a young man, he married a beautiful blonde girl, elfin and delicate and against everyone's wishes because she was Sicilian and he was Portuguese and in those days you didn't mix the two. He married her anyway. He never bother not to swear in front of the kids: I learned many a choice phrase (blonde haired like my Nana had been, and like my mother too) playing in his living room. I also learned the rules of soccer, and how to say the Hail Mary, and how to both say and hear "I love you," from a gruff and weathered man.
"I love you," heavily seasoned his cooking most of my life. Rich pasta dishes like baked ziti, chicken parm that tasted like angels made it, soup that stuck to your ribs and warmed your belly and your heart alike. Everything was from scratch at Grandpa's table: sauce, meatballs, his meals could take hours to prepare and the closest you came to a recipe was "eh some more pepper," "then I throw in the meatballs, make sure they have enough garlic," etc.
"I love you," was wrapped up with the many "treasures," he would give us - Grandpa was a packrat and believed everything might someday have value. You never knew, going to his house, what sort of item he'd bring down from the attic, a toy horse he'd rescued from a yardsale, a barbie dream house he'd had since your Aunt's were girls, and other assorted joys.
"I love you," was watching the same home video of a soccer game played for a rec team by elementary school kids, their faces pink in the autumn evening, their movements excited and sure but still unsteady and sloppy, over and over and over again. And each time declaring it was his grandkids who would be professional players - long after his eyesight had faded and he could hardly see the screen, let alone what happened on it.
"I love you," in an open wallet and money slipped into your hand, your pocket, admonishes to set it aside or get yourself something fun.
"I love you," in rough, whiskery kisses against your cheek before you left.
He taught me a lot, in that special, unspoken language we shared. He taught me about fear and courage and strength, as diabetes slowly claimed his leg. First just the lower leg, beneath his knee. Then right to the knee disappeared, and the prosthetic was longer, heavier, more alien looking. Then above the knee, too and he no longer wore the fake legs, but rolled himself in his wheelchair. That was when they sold the apartment and moved out of the city, to a house on a hill in town where there were hallways he could fit his wheelchair down and a better yard to put his statue of Mother Mary in and a back deck so he could go outside. They got a dog then too, a little beagle that could climb in his lap who he liked to chase from room to room shaking a bag of marbles (to discipline her, apparently. I'm convinced it was to irritate my Nana). Nana used to sign all of our cards in her elegant, old fashioned, looping handwritting "Love Nana & Grandpa." Now she signs "Nana & Maggie," and each time I read the now-portly-not-such-a-puppies name I hear marbles clacking together and smile.
I wish there was a point to this. Some way of tying it up, of feeling as though I've introduced you to Grandpa or said goodbye or that I've told the stories that need telling.
That's the funny thing about loosing a loved one, isn't it? Long after they're gone you find yourself staring at the sky, remembering.