The living room was dark with just enough sunlight breaching his midday nap time security that I could make my way to the floral patterned couch. That couch was the only bright spot of furniture in the living room unless the TV was on and cycling volume from deafeningly loud programming to the muted silence of commercials. Let’s not forget, the guaranteed surprise of changing the channel as soon as you let your mind drift into the story because the powers that be were bored. Brown carpet, brown coffee table, a brown recliner, and a maroon recliner – did I mention it was a dark living room?
He was seated in the most dignified posture – stretched out in the brown recliner; chair locked in horizontal position, hands motionless, placed perfectly at his sides. Adorned in his traditional lounge chair raiment- a navy blue sweatshirt zipped half way up his chest, yellow and white stripes running down the arms, sleeves rolled at the cuffs because no manufacturer could fashion clothes that met his scrupulous specifications, sweatpants, and slippers, one about to fall off. His royal robe was a blue and white primordial version of the Snuggie snapped at one corner and draped across his legs. I needed not worry about looking him in the eye: his head was buried into the head rest with a chair cover draped over his eyes to ensure zero light penetration, and his Sicilian nose pointing to the ceiling snorting the air in while he exhaled out his mouth, put, put, put. The Patriarch, Judge, Wise One, Grandpa Pantocrator, was soundly asleep.
When he wasn’t working in the garden, this was one of the two ways I found my Grandpa Amato on visits. The other was sitting on the back porch reading a cheap, throwaway novel encased in a cloth book cover he made from a piece of recycled material, while sipping on either a Genesse or glass of orange pop (or soda, or Crush for those of you reading outside the Upper Ohio Valley).
He and my Grandmother lived only a few streets over from and nearly everyday I would stop at their house for a visit and a meal. Let’s face it, if you go to Grandma’s, you get fed. Death by leftovers I’d like to say.
But, food was not the only reason to go over. I loved to see my Grandpa. He was a constant in my life, in each of our lives, even keel, rarely rattled, always positive, and always, always happy to see me. Many times I disrupted his recliner slumber and sat on that floral couch or took a place opposite him at the glass patio table, both our backs to the house, watching the cars go by and the birds swoop in and out of the back yard, just to talk. I sought his guidance in most things. Occasionally we discussed current events but those uninteresting conversations died quickly. There were more appealing and uplifting things to talk about – food, recent fishing or hunting adventures, our gardens and what we would plant the next year, my dad, or our top secret patches in the woods or fields for picking wild greens. Most of the time we talk about our favorite topic, family history.
It seemed that all fear and anxiety about life disappeared when I sat in his presence and took time to talk, laugh, maybe cry. He quipped Sicilian proverbs or old man quotes that fit each situation of life perfectly, some requested, others freely offered. You want something or have a goal for your life – “Whatever it takes.” You have been too reckless in a project or decision – “There’s never time to do it right. But, there’s always time to do it over.” I would be remiss if I did not tell you about the countless Sicilian proverbs and quips he has taught me. None of which I would dare try to spell out here. Mostly because they are slightly inappropriate and I am clueless how to write them in Sicilian. Grandpa and Grandma got a kick out of me as I practiced saying (linguistically murdering) new phrases in Sicilian. I loved to hear them laugh and then remark to one another in strange tongues.
Grandpa was one of three men whose opinion of my life I value. I want to know, and I do know, that he is proud to have me as a grandson. When I get to heaven I want him to be there with Jesus to say, you did a good job buddy. He was a presence in my life and a thought at the forefront of my decisions. In his presence, I experienced joy, love, and mercy precede justice and lessons both hard and gentle.
I think about how reluctant or even obstinate I am to come to church or receive the sacraments. I sometimes think that Jesus Christ is a hard-nosed unrelenting judge to be feared, rebelled against, and sometimes even avoided. If Jesus were only that kind of king why would he have been born as an infant and innocently suffered a criminal’s death? Christ is the humble and gentle king as approachable as my Grandpa sitting on the back porch drinking soda just waiting for his loved ones to drop by for a visit and little conversation.