Forever Pals

May God always watch over you (me too). Be careful, and always be good.
Love You, Your Pal Forever
P.S. Did not cheat!

…An excerpt from the inscription my Grandpa, my “Pal,” wrote in the pages of my senior high school yearbook, after some gentle, good-natured prodding that, after all, he couldn’t always just leave these things to Grandma.

I’m not sure exactly when “Pal” became our thing, but indeed it was, for as far back as I can remember. It was the way we addressed each other – in person, in cards exchanged, in life – a bond that grew ever closer with each passing year.

So many memories, from childhood sleepovers at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, to endless summer (and autumn) nights spent “cuddling” on the couch watching the Yankees, plenty of snacks at hand. I would often call ahead to see if there were any good “tickets” available, and my Grandpa would chuckle on the other end of the phone, assuring me that he had saved two front row seats just for us.

There were the countless weekends spent following my Grandpa around the house, out to his shed in the backyard, down to the basement, his “workshop” … wanting to know what he was working on as he tinkered and trimmed, painted and planted – always doing something, but never too busy for his Pal.

I can still recall the dozens of bocce ball “tournaments” in his backyard “court,” a perfectly manicured stretch of lawn that only he knew the nuances of, leading to many victories for Grandpa – me, not so much. And cards… I still have a set of playing cards my Pal gave to me, the same ones he had taught me to play “War” and “Rummy” with. (He let me win those matches occasionally.)

So many hot summer afternoons running through the sprinklers as a child, “swimming” in my inflatable Smurfs pool, and of course swinging on the old swing set in the backyard. Once the set came down – much to my dismay – my Grandpa managed to rig a single swing from a sturdy tree branch so that his big kid of a grandchild could still enjoy. I can still picture my Pal sitting on the patio under the awning watching me fly through the air, laughing silently, his shoulders shaking up and down.

There were the days when I would accompany my Pal on his frequent walks around the neighborhood, a route that often took us through the neighborhood cemetery around the corner from his house. Occasionally, I would bring my bicycle along and “practice” on the smooth paved paths, eventually begging him to take me to the local elementary school where I could speed through the empty parking lot at my leisure while he kept a careful eye on me.

As I grew older, my Grandpa would often pick me up from work on the weekends for lunch, where he would make his “famous” pepper and potato and egg pie for me. As we sat down to eat, he would let me sip some of the foam from the top of his beer. Often, we would finish up with some pretzels or cookies, as you could never leave without having dessert.

At Christmas time, one of our most cherished family traditions, we would celebrate Christmas Eve at Grandma and Grandpa’s. Grandma would take care of the menu, and Grandpa would handle all the gift-wrapping, a skill he had perfected from his many years of working at the A&S department store. And, just when the night was nearly over, my Pal would disappear down the basement, only to emerge with “one more gift,” usually the most special one of all.

And at Father’s Day, it became tradition for me to take my father and grandfather out to breakfast, using the funds that my Pal had given me throughout the year when he would come over to collect my recyclables and cash in the bottle deposits. It didn’t matter if there were two bottles; he always gave me at least a dollar in return. If it was more, five dollars. When I protested that it was too much, he would just smile, saying he was “going to the store anyway” to check out the latest sales and stock up the basement “pantry.”

As I grew older, I came to appreciate more and more what a special man this was, how lucky I was to have him in my life. I cherished every message he would leave on our home answering machine singing “Happy Birthday” to me; and, once my grandmother passed away several years ago, the beautiful cards he would pick out to mark every occasion.

Whether we were exchanging funny faces and making cross-eyes at each other across the kitchen table, or I was begging him to let me treat him to dinner at our local diner (not knowing he had already sent his secret signal to the waitress and managed to whisk away the bill before anyone else had a chance to see it), we always had a deep connection.

Just last week, my special Pal passed away, leaving a giant hole in my heart. His life was a shining example of what a man should be, to my grandmother, to his children and grandchildren, to everyone. His at-times shy, always humble, demeanor concealed a sly sense of humor that only those closest to him were privileged to see. The laughter and love he brought to all our lives was, and remains, my fondest memory of him.

Each time I hear the song “In the Mood,” I will continue to picture my grandparents flying across the dance floor, never missing a step, as they looked adoringly at one another. I can only hope they are dancing together at this very moment.

And so, Pal…  
May God always watch over you (me too).
I promise to be careful, and to always be good.
Love You, Your Pal Forever


{Published: March 23rd, 2016}


Jamie Lynn RyanComment