There was a man I knew once. He once told me he’d cut off all my hair when I was sleeping. He also teased me when I got boobs, loved to watch me eat fried eggs, and regularly told me how sweet-natured and affectionate I was. I loved him.
He was awesome.
He was horrible.
He could drink a 10 cup pot of morning coffee, on his own, whilst smoking a new pack of Merits. He is probably responsible for my deep and abiding love of coffee and my deep and abiding avoidance of cigarettes. He was the foundation for the character of GP in A Basic Renovation.
He was my maternal grandfather.
We never called him Grandpa or Grandfather or Nono. His own children occasionally called him Daddy, yet most of the time he was simply AP. He made friends wherever he went. Unlike GP, AP was not Sicilian, but he was Italian, made the most incredible pasta fazol (pasta e fagioli, pasta with beans), used to shove $50 into my hand, and was widowed when I was seven or eight. A source of endless fascination for me, he grew up in a time where ice was delivered on the back of a horse-drawn wagon. He liked to tell us how the Iceman used to shout out, “Boys! Keep away from those wagon wheels!” He owned his own grocery store and later worked in a steel mill where he was once burned when molten steel splashed on his leg. Even more fascinatin’ was the fact he kept his teeth in a little plastic container in the bathroom–and let me tell you they did not fit in my seven year old mouth.
AP’s manner was rather, shall we say, sharp and direct. Never one to suffer fools, he always spoke his mind, which meant he was always frank, sometimes harsh, and usually hilarious. He had a amazing sense of humour, and a great big laugh, yet he rarely smiled. That photo there is the only one I have of him smiling. Some of the things GP says in A Basic Renovation come conversations I had with AP–almost verbatim. The bit about Lesley asking how he is and his “None of your Goddamn business,” reply, for instance. His remarks in nuking the state of New Mexico were from my grandfather as well.
However, while there are giant flashes of AP in GP, GP is not my grandfather. I made up GP. I made him up because from the time AP lost my grandma to the time he died nearly thirty years later, I always wondered if he would ever fall in love and remarry. So, like that house in Los Alamos, the one that survived the Cerro Grande Fire and put the Last One Standing sign out front, I had a little seed that lay buried in my mind until one day I noticed it had germinated and cross pollinated with the Last One Standing.
Of course you realise I’m a writer so I could be making this whole thing up, like the movie Fargo which was “based on a true story” that never actually happened. Then again, I could have simply been inspired by a few true stories from my childhood. Anyhow, I have to thank my grandpa for making a big fat dent in my life and filling it up with enough memories to put in a book.