My grandfather wasn’t rich in money, but in the weary old FI/ER cliche his wealth of life experiences and especially his friends and family more than made up for it. I don’t remember his house ever being empty of laughter, even after my grandma’s funeral.
Papa was proud of his Italian heritage and he liked cooking and he’d frequently throw big feasts where he’d bury the kitchen counters and dining room table with platters of his mom’s “secret” recipes. We’ve since lost many of them, but her ravioli recipe lives on–and in fact, shortly after Papa died my family got together for Thanksgiving and made several giant batches of it in his memory (except we used turkey as the filling, which Papa would’ve approved of as long as it brought people together.)
He was also proud of his Marine Corps service in World War II. All he ever told us was that he’d helped clean out Okinawa in 1945. His words, not mine.
Papa learned auto mechanics somewhere, which he parlayed into a shop foreman job at a major car manufacturer. Got his pension and everything; not bad for a kid who’d grown up on the streets of a “dago shit-hole.” His words again, not mine.
Much later when we pulled his service record we discovered where his mechanical know-how came from: the Marine Corps had trained him to be an airplane mechanic and assigned him to a Vought F4U Corsair crew. I imagine him being great friends with the pilots, or least until they got shot down. He never talked about that either.
Sigh. Well, Papa…here’s a letter I wrote you after you passed, you gruff lovable life-of-the-party alpha male dago jarhead sumbitch…
So when you get to heaven there’s this car you always wanted, a red 64 & 1/2 Mustang convertible with the original 289 still in it, and you drive it around and enjoy it and feel happy.
But your neighbor up the block doesn’t feel happy. He loves cars; loves working on them, but this being heaven cars don’t break down, which leaves him moping around in his garage all day staring at his wrenches on their wall-hooks and wishing he was anywhere else. Feeling, in fact, like they lied to him when they told him this was heaven, because here he is, bored and miserable with no cars to work on, forever. And he feels this way until somebody in Management takes pity on him and causes your Mustang to throw a rod.
Now this being heaven you might be inclined to complain. Hey! Seriously? A blown engine? But then you calm down and consider all the angles and see that it’ll be OK; the parts are available and you’ll be able to scrape the money up from somewhere and you’ll be helping your neighbor out of a jam by giving him something to take his mind off his hellish situation; and anyway, this other buddy of yours who drives a really cool ’76 Stingray is totally willing to give you a lift to the grocery store or wherever else it is you might need to go.
And so you call him. The two of you together hit the grocery store for a case of beer—not the expensive stuff, or the swill—and you drop by your neighbor’s place and find that he’s got your Mustang parked out in his driveway with the top down, because this afternoon is yet another in the heavenly unbroken string of perfect cloudless late-spring afternoons (which, frankly, is causing some worry in Management over the glut of bored and miserable tornado-chasers who, like your neighbor, have nothing to work on either.)
Inside your neighbor’s garage you find that he’s no longer bored or miserable. He’s got your engine hanging from the hoist and parts strewn all over his workbench and he’s elbows deep in them, salvaging whatever he can. Whistling while he works.
And the three of you—you, your buddy, and your neighbor—pass the afternoon drinking beer and bullshitting about cars. And as you do you make three pleasant discoveries: first, that in heaven a case of beer doesn’t run out after the first twenty-four cans are consumed, and second, that in heaven the perfect cloudless late-spring afternoons last either until you get hungry enough to fire up the barbecue for dinner, or else until Management decides it’s time for the bored and miserable tornado-chasers to get their turn.
But the third pleasant discovery you make is this: it doesn’t matter whether heaven is real or not, because getting there only requires calming down and considering all the angles and seeing that it’ll be OK. Which, and with this realization you finally attain enlightenment, is pretty much what the Buddha and Moses and Confucius and Jesus and Mohammed and the rest were trying to tell you all along.
See you on the flip side, Papa…