It was a normal day in the life of a 17-year-old. I was doing my own thing, living my own life. The phone rang at the house. In a strong Italian accent, I heard, “Wayne! No hotta watah. It’s the watah heateh, the elementa.”
It was my grandfather on the phone. I called him papa. He was about 89 at the time. My papa and noni came into the U.S. in 1919 from Italy and eventually migrated down to Hialeah, Florida. He spoke English well, but just had a strong accent. Papa and I had a special relationship. I admired him and I always knew that he loved me and was proud of me. I enjoyed being with him and learning things from him.
As I listened to papa on the phone, I was trying to decipher what he was trying to say. I tried to ask for clarification, but he was a little hard of hearing and didn’t do well on the phone. Finally, I was able to figure out that he had no hot water at the house and the issue was the hot water heater. At the time, I worked at an electrical supply house, but knew very little about actual electricity. However, papa asked for me to come and I headed over.
Once at papa’s, he walked me outside to a garage where the water heater was located. He said, “the hot watah heateh is no working. He then pointed to a cover plate on the unit and said, “the elementa.” “Oh, the element,” I thought. “That’s what he is saying. He thinks it’s the element.”
He showed me how to drain the heater, remove the cover plate, locate and remove the element. I was curious how he knew that was the issue, but I respectfully headed to the hardware store to get a new one. In a short time, I replaced it, turned the water back on, and it worked like a charm! I was thrilled. As a 17-year-old, I had no idea how he knew what the problem was, but he knew. He was kind of like that. Papa knew a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff.
He was a hard worker. As a product of the Great Depression, he was very frugal. I remember him doing odd jobs on the home and as a jack of all trades. He was still trying to get onto the roof of his home when he was in his 80s. I have many wonderful memories of my papa and think about him often. I wish I had learned more from him. Kids just have their own agenda and do their own thing. Only when we get older do we look back and wish we could have changed a few things.
I know have a grandson of my own. He, too, calls me me papa. I’m truly blessed in that I get a chance to see him several days a week. Having a child around the house is challenging, to say the least. After raising four kids, I thought my wife and I were finally empty nesters, but that’s not the case. Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
He’s always filled with energy and always wants to play. We have toys laying around the house and watch shows like Puppy Dog Pals, Roadster Racers, and Bluey. I’m glad that he enjoys coming over and we have a great relationship. Like a typical papa, I at times, spoil him something terrible. Nothing melts my heart more than hearing, “papa” from his lips.
“Do you want to come in the pool papa?” he said playfully as he splashed around. I had just gotten home. Now, I’m not really a “pool person”. I grew up in Miami and had a pool growing up. To make matters worse, the pool that mama and papa got him is only 10-foot round and 30 inches deep. There is no actual swimming in this pool. I was resistant to join him. “Pweese,” he begged, giving me the sad face. Now, I’ve got a million things to work on, but five minutes later, I am in the pool and he and I are swimming away from the sharks, whirlpools, and tornadoes and having battles with the squirt guns.
I realize my time with him is limited. Nothing is stable. I am enjoying the time. Although I am extremely busy, and there’s never a dull moment, one of the things that I’ve tried to do is say “yes” to him when I have every reason to say no. “Do you want to play Minecraft?” he asks as I sit on the couch perusing a book for an upcoming study. “Yes,” I say.
There are times when he plays Minecraft on his handheld or on the game system, but that’s not what he’s talking about. He has quite the imagination and loves to make up games. He wants us to actually be the characters in Minecraft.
The main character in the game is Steve who walks around and builds stuff. So, he and I, are both named Steve. “What should we do, Steve?” I ask. “Let’s go in the portal, Steve,” he says. For the next twenty minutes, or so, we’ll walk around the house and play Minecraft trying not to get killed by the zombies. He makes sure I get all the verbiage correct and that I’m faithful to the rules of the game.
Pause” he says as I’m sitting on the couch. We’ve learned that when he says, pause, we’re supposed to freeze exactly where we are and not be cognizant of anything he’s doing while in this frozen state. Then, while we’re paused, he will move our arms around, put our finger in our own nose, or put objects in our hands. “Un-pause,” he says. At that point, we are supposed to be surprised at our unpleasant demise. For him, it never gets old. I have to cut him off at about thirty-seven times.
BURRRRP. I couldn’t believe what came out of a six-year-old (think Elf and Pepsi). Laughing hysterically, he says, “That was a really big burp!” Triumphantly he asks, “Did I sound like a dinosaur?” “You did,” I said chuckling, “But, buddy, we need to practice good manners. “Excuse me,” he said. I try not to laugh uncontrollably.
“Hey, buddy, do you want to make a movie?” Puzzled, he answered, “what kind of movie?” “You know,” I said excitedly, “I’ll just use my phone to record us doing something fun and we’ll make it into a movie!” He was all in and moments later, in interview style, I say, “today is [day/date] and we’re talking about what we did today.” We then shared the events of the day and I asked him to conclude with a short story that he had made up while we were in the pool.
To be honest, I did have ulterior motives for making the video. Time passes so quickly and he’s growing up so fast. One of the things I wish I had was a way to remember my papa. That option doesn’t exist.
But, one of the things that I can do is help my grandson remember our time together. He doesn’t know it, but I plan on uploading these short videos to a YouTube channel that he’ll have access to when he gets older. So, in a sense, we’re making movies and memories.
I’m sure, as he gets older, he won’t always be as excited to see papa. But one day, when I’m gone, he might want to reminisce about some of the fun times we had together. In addition to the fun times, I also look forward to sharing important information with him—like how much I love him, how proud I am of him, and how my ultimate desire is for him to know and serve the Lord, and that I’ll be waiting for him in heaven.
Dr. Wayne Geiger is the Pastor of First Baptist Grain Valley, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Speech, and freelance writer.