A Birthday Tribute to Pop.

I had a dream last night.

I was down the shore in North Wildwood.  Bathing Suit was on, Shades on my head, flip flops in hand.  My bag was filled with the usual necessities– sunscreen, baseball hat, book and an apple.  I came bounding down the main staircase and turned the corner to head into the kitchen.  Needed a bottle of water before I made the long walk to the ocean.  As I got to the landing of the staircase, I turned past the yellow rocking chair, and saw Pop.  He was sitting in his favorite chair, still in his pajamas, newspaper in front of him, reading glasses on, freshly brewed coffee in hand.    

“There’s my girl!  Heading to the beach?” Pop asked.

“Yep, leaving now.  Are you meeting me down there?” I asked as I walked past him to the fridge.

“Just gotta wait from Mom-Mom to finish her tray of Cheerios and coffee, and I’ll meet you,” he said with a smile.

“Great… I’ll save you a spot.”

I walked out the front door, down the cement steps and walked briskly to the beach to get a spot by the water.  After the 10 minute walk through the hot sand, I found my spot.  I pulled out my chair, angled it to face the sun, set up my towel, and settled in for a full day of people watching, swimming and sunbathing.  I love quiet days on the beach.  When you can just relax, unwind and decompress from a long week at the office.  It was a beautiful summer day.  I rested my eyes, listening to the waves crashing on the sand and the Fudgie Wudgie Man yelling out his arrival.

When I opened my eyes, I was in my bed, at my house, in Blue Bell.

I laid in my bed, trying to figure out what was real and what wasn’t.  When I realized that it was just a dream, I had conflicting emotions.  I felt a sense of calm as I opened my eyes and had the light shining in on my bed. I forgot that I couldn’t walk well, because in my dream, I was skipping down a staircase and heading out to walk the quarter-mile to the ocean.  However, I was also disappointed.  It was just a dream, and Pop was still gone.  It’s been 4 years since we lost him to congestive heart failure.  A man with the biggest heart had a heart that could not go on.

There is something very special about the relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild.  They don’t have the authority of your parents, and they can sometimes be a safe haven when you were in trouble with your parents.  “My children’s children are twice my children” my grandmother used to say.  She said it meant she had twice as much love to give us.  We only got to know one set of grandparents.  My Dad lost his parents by the time he was 30, so I didn’t have the chance to get to spend much time with the Carneys.  I’m disappointed, as I know we would have been just as close.  I’ve been told that I remind people of my Dad’s Mom– she was outgoing, always up for a party, and an amazing baker.  Well, maybe there’s no similarities with the baking, but I’m still learning 🙂  I’m sad that we didn’t get to know each other because I think you learn alot about who you are and where you are from when you hear stories from older generations.  So, I count on my Dad to give me his family’s history.

I was very close to my Sciolla grandparents. We used to talk every day on the phone.  Just a two-minute call to check in, to see how they were doing. Pop was known to be a man of few words. But those words were priceless.  I’d call the house and ask him what Mom Mom was doing.  He’d respond- “She’s out Goosin Superman”.  If he’d get mad he’d say “It’d be Two Bops. You, then the Ground”.  If you were out on a date, he always wanted to check for “swollen” lips just to embarrass you. I never did find out what Goosin Superman really meant, but I always laughed.

I would spend so much of my free time pumping Mom Mom and Pop for every Sciolla story- they remembered them all.  I would sit down the shore and just listen to them talk about their life, their kids, their business.  I soaked it all up.  I wish now I had written it down or recorded it as I know I’ll get some of the facts wrong. Pop was best known in Philadelphia for owning and managing Sciolla’s Supper Club, one of the best known nightspots in the area.  Performers included luminaries Tony Bennett, Paul Anka, Joey Bishop, Chubby Checker, Bobby Darin, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, Fats Domino.  He managed the talent at the supper club, and always believed in giving young musicians their shot.  Artists like Cozy Morley, Bunny Sigler, and Teddy Pendergrass.  That’s how everyone knew, and came to love, Pop.  And he loved Mom Mom.

He was married to my grandmother for 61 years. Mom Mom and Pop was not a “love at first sight” romance.  Quite the opposite.  They were set up to go to a dance together because Mom Mom’s cousin wanted to go out with Pop’s brother.  The girls weren’t allowed to date, so they had to double. So, Tony and Nanette were thrown together.  They had a nice time.  He was a great dancer.  She’ll later go on to tell the story that when Pop dropped her off, she thanked him for the evening, and said she could never see him again.  Her father wouldn’t allow it.  So, with the challenge in front of him, Pop would drive by her house each night and shine his headlights to her bedroom, just to get her atttenion.  After several visits, her father finally invited him in, and the rest is history.  He was persistent.  But as he’ll tell it, “I loved her”, so it was worth it.  Those are the stories I treasured.  The personal ones that you only learn about if you ask.

My mom loves to tell the story of my birth.  Not the length of labor (although when she’s in the mood, she’ll remind me of the 23 hours of labor she endured… ), rather the significance of the day I was born.  She was with my Dad at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden, and after long hours of labor, out I came.  She picked up the phone to call her parents.  Pop answered and she said “Happy Birthday Dad.  You have a granddaughter.”  I was his favorite birthday gift, he would tell me every year.  We would always celebrate our birthdays together.  More often than not, it was around our dining room table at my parent’s house after a dinner of Chicken Devan, my favorite, and Coconut Custard pie, his favorite.  Those are good memories.

It’s been almost four years, and I still vividly remember standing in front of the congregation, hands shaking a little, biting back tears, delivering his eulogy.  I talked about his love of life, his perfect coffee, his bright smile, his famous Sciolla mix, his impressive golf handicap and his sense of humor.  Tony Bennett sings a great song “Smile” that inspired the eulogy.

“Smile though your heart is aching, Smile even though it’s breaking;
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow, Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you.”

I see Pop every day.  When I look at my brother’s balding head.  When my Uncle John talks about the deal he got shopping.  When I turned on the TV on a Sunday afternoon and watch the final round of a Golf Tournament.  When I hear a Tony Bennett song on the radio.  But the best place I see him is in my dreams.  I see him when I have a lot on my mind, if I’m struggling with something, or if I’m scared.  The dreams have the same theme- we are sitting at a table and we’re talking through what’s on my mind.  He’s always wearing his brown cashmere sweater, with the cuffs folded up, his wingtips, and his raincoat and fedora are on the table next to him.  He always gives me sound advice, and reminds me that I can get through anything.  He says “you’ve been through worse, so you’ll get through this.”  During my journey with GBS, he was with me at the hospital.  He was a great source of strength for me when I felt I didn’t have any.

“You’ll see that life is still worthwhile, if you just smile.” So, on my birthday, please join me in a smile as I remember and honor a man who will forever be missed.

Thank you for joining me on this journey.

Suz

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by bobbi on October 23, 2011 at 1:49 PM

    Suzy,
    This was so beautiful. Thanks for including me in the share. I am sitting here crying and smiling.
    You certainly have Pop’s strong positive outlook on what life brings us.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Jeanie Tini on October 23, 2011 at 12:28 PM

    Happy Happy Birthday Suzy!!! what an awesome story once again you brought to tears!!! Your grandpop was an amazing man and I only knew him for a short time, but I will always remember his warmth…. xoxo

    Reply

  3. Posted by Jessica on October 23, 2011 at 11:46 AM

    He was a great man Suzy, I still have memories of visiting that house in North Wildwood (I remember shells everywhere) We lost Poppop Joe 23 years ago and Mommom Rose 18 years ago. I wish we had more time together and I knew more of their history. Your Grandmom did a great job on filling me in. I think it’s so important to know and pass on that information. Since my grandparents passed away when I was so young, it was aways comforting to get together with your grandparents because it gave me that connection to mine. I hope you have a wonderful birthday and thanks for sharing these stories.

    Reply

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