Pop-Pop’s House

Grandparents, on my mother’s side, were Scandinavian. One from Denmark, the other Norway.

Careful observers can see all of this in me. The blond hair, blue eyes, Nordic complexion. Not.

I can’t recall who was which, and it probably doesn’t matter. As a kid, all I knew was that each spoke “funny” and said “Ja” a lot. Which was close enough to “Yeah,” so I understood.

My Grandfather was a sturdy, stocky guy. Traits I also failed to inherit. He had a tremendous mop of hair, though, and which I did inherit. (Thank you.) And kept every last one of them until the day he died. White. But complete.

After his arrival in the U.S., he settled in the ordinary-named Plainfield, NJ – well before it became a kind of bedroom community to Manhattan – a 45-minute Jersey Central ride away. Plus the time on the Elizabeth Port ferry.

And he took up residence at a grand estate. Big, three-story house, plus full basement and attic. Three or four terraced backyards, grape arbor, ferns. Everything.


Of course, he did not live in the three-story house. He was a stable hand. So he lived in the stable. With the horses.

Years later, the stable was converted to a garage. So big, it accommodated three huge cars (and there was no such thing as a “compact” back then), plus an enormous motorboat on a trailer.

The stable was as big as most people’s family homes. Full second floor, hip roof with dormers on each side.

Pop-Pop – who makes up these names? – later progressed from stable hand to trolly man, eventually becoming the streetcar’s engineer. It was the American dream; and it was real. He finished his career as a mechanic at the Mack Truck factory.

Mack’s bulldog mascot and he seemed somehow similar, I always thought.

I remember him as a pretty good guy, though I don’t think I knew him for more than eight years. And, for most of us, those first eight are kind of a haze.

Named (middle name) after him, I suspect he was honored by his only daughter’s choice.

Pop-Pop and Nana were immigrants and Depression people. Which means they skimped and saved and sacrificed. Thanks to them, I graduated from college with no debt.

But I did have to work while in college. The AV squad, showing 16mm films in classes to bored students and out-of-words teachers. ID-checker/bouncer at the campus pub. DJ at a local saloon. And, on weekends, home to work with the neighbor doing my first profession: roofing. Lots of roofing. I had a great tan, and way earlier than anyone else. Though only on my back.

One of the last roofs I put on was the one above the stable where he had lived. Seemed right.

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