Grandpa Phil

40 years ago this week, my grandfather Phil, my mother’s father, died of a massive heart attack. He was 57 years old. He had been a smoker since childhood, having grown up poor on the streets of Fishtown in the early years of the 20th century. He left behind a wife, three children and scores of family and friends who loved him dearly.

By all accounts, he was the nicest man anyone who knew him ever met. He loved babies in a time when it was unheard of for a man to change a diaper. He cared for my grandmother’s extended family, taking bags of groceries to nieces that were his only by marriage, when their father was unable to provide for them. He was a lawyer who never went to an undergraduate institution, and was terrified by the idea of appearing in court. He was a man without pretense, snobbery or great ambition. He wanted to live, to take naps on the davenport on the sunporch, to read Agatha Christie novels, to vacation in Florida once a year and to love his family.

My mother’s cousin Angie once told me that one of the reasons she married a lawyer was because she thought that all lawyers were as wonderful as her Uncle Phil. If only it were true.

At the time of his death, his oldest son was in the Army, having been among the first wave to be drafted to Vietnam. My mother remembers clearly that he said often, “I would trade my life for his to bring him home safely.” Although he never knew it, that’s exactly what he did. The night he died, my uncle had 89 more days to serve before his tour of duty was over. In those days (it may still be the same, I’m not exactly up on the inner workings of the military) Army policy was that if you had a death in the family and you still had 90 or more days to serve, you could go home for the funeral, but then you had to return to duty. If you had 89 days or less, you would be send home, your duty discharged. My uncle came home, grief-stricken, but safe, from Vietnam. The rest of his unit did not fair so well. The location where he had been stationed was bombed shortly after he left, and many were killed.

Obviously I never had the opportunity to meet my mother’s father, although I feel I know him well. He bought the apartment I now live in, never thinking that he was providing a home for a granddaughter who’s parents hadn’t even met. Forty years after his death, he is still loved, missed and remembered. And in that way, he still lives.

0 thoughts on “Grandpa Phil

  1. David Childers

    Hi Marisa. This is your dad’s friend. Good luck in the voting thing. I enjoyed reading about your Uncle Phil.
    I love your father and I know he is supportive and very proud of you.

    Reply
  2. Marisa

    Hey David Childers! Of course I remember you, I’ve got it in the back of my head to write about the avocados we used to get from your trees when I was little. Thanks for reading!

    Reply
  3. Donna

    That was a beautiful tribute to your grandfather. You don’t know me, I just happened on your blog while web surfing. My dad died 30 years ago in January, also of a massive heart attack, at age 49. He, too, still lives on in us, he was a wonderful man who I am proud to have had as my dad. I just regret that my children never knew the grandfather who would have cherished them.
    Sounds like your grandfather and my dad would have gotten along well.

    Reply
  4. Brittany Matter

    Marisa, this is such a beautifully written story. It brought tears to my eyes. I hope you win! Do you know that you are one of my biggest inspirations? When you babysat me, my passion for reading increased because you set time aside for me to do so. I hope we talk soon and I cannot wait to read more of your work. Take care! Miss and love you!

    Reply
  5. Ellen

    This sounds very similar to my grandpop (mom’s dad) – I lost him when I was 2, but the stories I’ve heard about him – him and my grandmom both worked so he did half the chores. Stories include my mom’s nurse’s costumes and what we modern folk know as “girls nights out” he made my grandmom take with her girlfriends while he watched the (5!) kids. My 2 uncles from that side are great guys so I have no trouble believing that to be true.

    Reply
  6. Kate

    This reminds me so much of my dad’s father, who also died of a massive heart attack in his fifties (53, I think). Freaking cigarettes. It was on my grandmother’s birthday, and a month before my parents’ wedding. He and my grandmother had such an incredibly romantic story. They met on a train, then exchanged letters for two years before they saw one another again. I’m sure this wasn’t how she envisioned their story to end. And from what I understand, my generation was robbed of knowing a great and wonderful man.

    Thanks for sharing your story. I really appreciated it.

    Reply
  7. Katey Schultz

    and his favorite family food was….see, this could be expanded on a little more and then tied into food and bam, you’ve got a great intro to another recipe in your best selling cookbook. can you tell i’m not going to give up on you?
    🙂
    ~k

    Reply

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