My maternal grandfather recently passed away. I knew him as a loving, hard-working man who took much pride in his family. Before he left us, he and Lucy got to meet briefly.
As with my grandmothers passing, I was asked to give the eulogy at Papa’s funeral. It’s difficult and emotionally draining to write a eulogy, but here is what I came up with…
“Those who knew Papa know he loved life. He was a simple man, with simple pleasures. Loved soccer. Loved to cook. Loved to go on walks with his grandchildren. And he absolutely loved sitting in a folding chair with a beer in front of his house. I’m sure many of you here have spent countless hours on the sidewalk of Cortez Ave chatting with Papa. He loved the company. Papa was a people person. Like a true Italian his heart swelled with joy whenever he was surrounded by his friends and family, especially when it included a big meal and a glass of homemade wine.
Papa immigrated to Chicago from Italy with my grandmother in the 1950’s. Although it was hard to leave the only home they ever knew, they were in search of a better life for themselves and their growing family. Throughout the years he worked hard to provide for his wife and six children. He once told me he worked up to three jobs at once to support his family. He spent much of his career working for the village of Melrose Park, driving his truck #102, and pouring concrete for various projects. Papa was always cooking for the Village. Whenever they would ask, he would respond with “cinque betz,” five dollars. He was so important to the village that they even gifted him with a street in his honor. Papa was more or less a Melrose Park icon. You always knew where he was because of the American and Italian flags that stood on his car.
Besides working for the village, he was incredibly involved in his community. As a devout Catholic, he spent much time volunteering at Our Lady of Mt Carmel. Always ready to help when he could. He took much pride in his services to the church, especially every summer when he would help carry the Madonna around the neighborhood along side his friends, brothers, and nephews. When I was a child I remember watching Papa walk the collection baskets around during Mass and think “Wow, he must be really special to have a job like that.” He was also heavily involved with the Annual San Francesco feast. A tradition that he carried with him from is hometown of San File in Calabria Italy. He even he helped start The Flowers of Italy club with his brother, Joe.
Papa knew everyone and everyone loved him.
What made Papa so special are the traditions he carried on throughout the years. Most people don’t understand the time and effort someone has to put in to making homemade wine, homemade sausage, or even keeping a luscious home made garden. For Papa these things weren’t optional. These were traditions engrained so deep, that they became more than annual events they were his way of life.
Papa will live on through the traditions he has passed down to us. We will keep him alive with every story we share and every memory we relive. Every time my cousins think back on the times he would take us to the deli to get candy, or the soccer games they went to with him, or the playful pranks Papa would play with them. I want them to be filled with the joy of having a grandfather that cared. A grandfather that always wanted to know how they were doing. And a grandfather that was so proud of his family.
Many people have expressed their sympathies about my Papa’s long, painful battle, offering their warm hugs and kind words to help fill our sad hearts. Cancer is a viscous sickness, and Papa took it head on for over five years. Over and over again, he beat the odds and bounced right back. Always eager to help, and ready to drive his sister-in-laws around for the next errand. Papa fought up until the very end.
I am grateful to have known Papa for as long as I have. He got to see me as a baby, a child, an adult and most recently a mother. After he passed, I realized that as much as it hurts to see him go, this is all a part of the cycle of life. And just like the symbolic flood of the Old Testament, we’ve had our own flood in these past few days. A flood to help wash away our sorrows and pave new paths for our family.”