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Sixteen years ago I was born in the great state of Pennsylvania. I lived in the rural mountain town of Bear Creek Lake, until I was about six. I actually do not know if that’s the real town's name because Jim Thorpe was the larger town and all activities I participated in were in Jim Thorpe. However the Jim Thorpe, Bear Creek Lake combination was like having tripe and cow kidney to eat. Separately they are awful but put them together and it’s horrid. Bear Creek Lake was not really a town at all, no schools or grocery stores. It was more of a “tourist/summer gas-station town.” The kind of town where if you do have to stop there for gas, you start to think of 1970s horror movies. All the decent nineteen seventies style movies have some sketchy gas station like that: The Hills Have Eyes, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tourist Trap and The House of 1000 Corpses. Of course once you stop at that gas station you immediately think of these movies. You look at the sketchy attendant and immediately think that he some how looks eerily similar to Buffalo Bill.
There was that gas station in Bear Creek Lake. It was a Texaco. Aside from gas the Texaco sold convenience store items. The store had great candy, booze and of course porn. Because honestly what is there to do in Pennsylvania besides that. I was only six at the time and my grandfather had taken me to the gas station to get the daily newspaper, and he let me go get a yahoo. There was an older man named Angelo who owned the store. The one thing I'll never forget is my grandfather's voice when he called out a name. We would walk in and my grandfather would bellow out Angelo and off course Angelo would come out and talk to Poppy. I cannot remember what they ever talked about, but every time I went with him, they both talked.
The town was populated rather well. It wasn't a suburb but it was close. The town was separated by a river. For about two square miles the town was flat. Other wise it was incredibly hilly. More hilly them Hopkinton. The town reminds me of the pictures and videos I've seen of San Francisco. There were a few mansions but aside from the hills it was nothing like San Francisco. The only interesting things we had in the town was a railroad, a giant piece of coal and a random jail house where a man proclaimed his innocence against the wall with his hand. His hand print has stayed there to this day. That was interesting for about five minutes. You then remember that you’re leading a miserable life in Pennsylvania. The town was so depressing.
The only good thing the town had been the food. There were about five diners which I loved. My grandfather Poppy used to bring me to them. They were the best. My grandfather had an incredible personality to him. You could not hate him. He could enter anywhere and immediately be loved.
My dad got a better job in Boston Massachusetts. Finally we could leave the place where none of us fit in. Every one was country and my family was nothing like that. We had moved from the Elizabeth, New Jersey and the rural Poconos were not anything close. As soon as we moved the worst possible thing happened. My grandfather found out he had a terminal illness.
I can't really remember the time before he got sick. I've seen the videos and the picture but my memory cannot seem to pick up on them. It’s upsetting because I have always heard the stories that made him so legendary, but I never got to experience them. There were countless stories of pranks he's pulled, things he's done that all contribute to his legendary status. He was great with kids and showed it by always making time for us. There are so many stories of the person he was but in my mind he showed his true character once he got sick.
Poppy was diagnosed with myelofibrosis, a disorder where your bone marrow scars. It causes your red blood count to drop because the bone marrow produces red blood cells and because it is scarring the blood cells are not produced. The only cure is to transplant bone marrow. Because he was so old the doctors felt it was too risky and did not go forth with the surgery. It is a very debilitating disease, which would often make him weak and weary.
Poppy fought through it and showed me how to live. Every time you would call him he would use his booming voice to make you feel like everything is alright. And it was never how he felt or how you could help him, but how you are and how can he help. I'll never forget that voice; it showed his strength throughout the whole ordeal. Some nights he would have a stomach pump, the reason for it I forget why, but my grandmother described it as being very painful and it was the only time he'd ever have a complaint. His complaints were only for a second though. Poppy would never show how he felt unless he was in real awful, unbearable pain. You could see it in his eyes. But no matter what he had a smile on his face.
He knew that as a younger child I did not understand he was sick. The funniest and best times of my childhood he was always near. At his house in Pennsylvania he had a swimming pool in the back. We would play Mr. Buoy as we called it. My cousins, sister and I would all hang on him and he brought us around the pool. We would play for hours until my grandmother finally would call us in for dinner.
The greatest show of his strength and love of all things fun was when we went to Disney World. My sister and I had a favorite ride. It was Splash Mountain My grandmother was afraid of going on and they could not let us go by ourselves. In spite of his illness Poppy took us on the ride. Of course he was making jokes alone the whole way both for the adults and the kids. As went through the slow easy part we anxiously awaited the drops. We shot through the first few drops until we reached the top. We were laughing the whole way. Once we reach the top we were ready. We shot down the drop into the water below. The picture they took midway tells it all. I was fearful, my sister too, but my grandfather making a funny face. Once we reached the bottom my grandfather began to gargle help sounds, which made everyone laugh. It was the best time I've ever had on a ride and I will never forget it.
Poppy always made people laugh. From swearing at a cop and driving past him while the cop stood in awe, to making his grandkids laugh. He could always do it. I did not get to see him much because we lived so far away. I saw him during Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and sporadically over the summers. Each time I saw him his bear like body was slowly fading, but true to his character he would always be having fun.
Poppy went back and forth for the last years of his life. When we thought he was doing better something would come up. To me it was so unfair. Of all people to happen to it was, in my eyes, the greatest person on Earth. However, the way he acted while he was sick shaped the way I am. Every time we visited it became more depressing. The once two hundred plus pound man weighed as much as my twelve year old body did. The last weeks were the worst because we all felt it was coming.
That day I was at my friend’s house. We walked into Bill's Pizza and split a plate of French Fries. It was a cold winter day. They was a decent size covering of snow on the ground. As Brian and I were walking back to his house we saw a mini pond and decided we want to go slide around on it. As I walked down to go slide around I got this eerie feeling like something was wrong. I felt empty and no longer wanted to slide on the ice. Brian was pissed. He thought I was being a baby and was afraid I was going to fall through. About five minutes later we arrived at his house. We went inside and warmed up and watched TV. My mom came about an hour later like planned. I saw in her eyes she was sad.
I got in the car and she told me that he had passed away. I was upset he had died but he was finally out of pain. We got plane tickets and went to Florida. We went to church that Sunday and I'll never forget it. My grandmother, mom, aunt, sister and I were all in the pew and the priest mentioned that my grandfather's passing. We all stood there after he said, “James.” We all tried to keep our demeanor but we could not. Slowly tears began to roll down our faces.
The funeral was the next day. It was an odd funeral because we had some laughs. As people went up and talked about him the funeral became easier and easier to get through. The stories people reminded everyone of how funny he was. The chuckles cheered us up slightly. The hardest part was leaving. I was asked by my grandmother to walk in front of the casket. I thought it would have been easy but slowly I lost my composure and began to tear up. However I saw the large amount of people in the church and it made me think. It was later before I thought this but the amount of people who were in that church made me see how big of an impact he was. The people from the condominium all told me how big of an impact or inspiration he was. I hope I can do the same for people. I hope I show the strength, courage or personality of my grandfather, because he certainly showed me how to do it.
Months later we had a memorial service for my grandfather. It may have been the best time I've had with my extended family. We all had a large lunch and as people who I had no idea who they were left. Our family all came together under the tent and began to tell our stories. We found out a lot about our family that day. We saw each characteristic of Poppy we had. My cousin, Tom, could do is famous booming voice. Tom reminded us of the fact that no matter where our Uncle Wally was my grandfather would always bellow, “HEY WALLY!” Whenever I think about this I cannot help but smile and chuckle a bit. Wally could be in the next room and Poppy would still say it.
My favorite story told that day was about how Poppy would bar hop. My Uncle John told us a story where one day he was looking for him in New York. It was after work and of course he stopped into a bar. John said he would go to a random bar where he knew Poppy had had a drink before. However, when he went to go in he'd always be a few minutes late. But the people inside would say, “Oh your Jim's kid!? Well sit down have drink.” John would only catch Poppy by luck. Otherwise he would just have to go home and wait. The story reminded my mother and the rest of the family how he would jump into a bar and leaves the kids in the car between tasks.
The kind of life my grandfather lived is exactly what I want to recreate for myself. Being loved by so many people as well as being an inspiration. Showing the courage he had to fight his illness as long as he did. The time he was alive I'll never forget the lessons I have learned will carry on.