What were you doing on this day twenty years ago? You probably can’t remember…but I can. This was the day the one of the most important people in my life passed away.
I know you’re not supposed to have favorites when it comes to your grandparents, but Grandpop Mullen, my mom’s dad, was mine. And I strongly suspect that the feeling was reciprocated. Out of all the grandkids, I was the quietest, the most thoughtful, the most adult. I think he appreciated that. I could sit with him in my grandparents’ living room for hours, either chatting or just being content in each other’s company, each of us reading one of the many Reader’s Digests that sat in piles on their end tables. A Navy man who served in the Pacific in World War II, a first-generation Irish-American with a temper and (I would come to find out many years later) a drinking problem, he intimidated me, but because of this, few things pleased me more than when I could please him. His approval meant more to me than even my parents’, and I can remember showing him my report card at the end of every marking period, anxiously awaiting his response, and beaming when he would give me his proud little smile. He was gruff, but he was gentle. He always smelled of spearmint Trident gum and Pall Mall cigarettes. He wore short-sleeved button-down shirts that were so soft and so threadbare that you could see the bluebird tattoos on his chest that he got on one drunken night during the war. He would sit in his recliner as I sat across the living room from him on the couch, so thin he could cross his legs and still have both feet touch the floor, slowly rocking, rocking, rocking. It was the cigarettes that made him that thin, that would eventually kill him. He wasted away to nothing, emphysema and what was more than likely undiagnosed lung cancer taking him on June 23rd, 1996. I was either days away from finishing or had just finished my freshman year of high school. He’d been hospitalized and wasn’t doing well. My mom didn’t want me or my sister to see him – according to her, he was a shell of the man we’d known and she didn’t want us to remember him like that. So on that beautiful, sunny June morning, as I was eating breakfast, my parents came in the front door, having returned from the hospital. Mom went upstairs to their bedroom and Dad joined me in the kitchen. I don’t think he had to say a word – I knew. And I remember that I sat at the kitchen table and cried into my cereal. At his funeral, I tucked my final report card of the year into his casket before they closed it…I think he would have liked to have known how well I’d done.
Love you, Grandpop. Always.
Thomas Aloysius Mullen
June 6th, 1922 – June 23rd, 1996