Today is GP’s birthday. He was born on March 13, 1924. This morning I told him Happy Birthday and he told me that he’s 99.
“No,” I said. “You’re 92.”
So together we did the math. Turns out we were both wrong. Today GP is 91.
I suggested a hot shower and a hot shave to celebrate the birthday. Grandpa opted to skip the shower. We compromised. He thoroughly enjoyed the shave. Then lunch. Then home where he let me interview him. It was fun, for both of us (I think).
Where was your dad from? Ireland
Where was your mom from? Ireland
Where did they meet? Brooklyn
Do you know how they met? No
What kind of work did your dad do? Court officer. In New York, down by the water.
He did paperwork? Or a cop?
Well, he was the number one guy who took care of people on the phone who wanted things done. Dealing with lawyers. It was a heavy tipping job (um, yeah, I think that’s called a bribe). He was the senior court officer in his court. He took care of everything. Phone calls. I don’t think he’s there anymore (probably not).
Your mom? Did she work?
No. House. Seven children. (Just like that. No. House. Seven children)
I was the third youngest.
There was a girl #1, a boy # 2 and 3 me.
Do you remember their names?
Edward and a girl and I was Thomas.
There were four more? Yeah, but I don’t know their names. I was in the group with the oldest kids.
There was Alice, do you remember your sister Alice? Her name was Mary Alice.
What about your sister Agnes? I remember the name. Actually she’s the youngest.
What about your sister Ann. Do you remember her? Yeah smart.
Do you remember anything else about them, the sisters? No, they all did good in school. I think they all went to college.
Did you go to college? Me, no. I hadda work.
Do you remember your brother Andrew? Yeah, he was youngest.
What Did your mother cook? Everything (like I’m stupid)
Any special Irish meals? No
Was your family rich or poor? Rich (ha! Show me the money)
What did you do for fun as a kid? Stick ball
And we went swimming in the east river.
That was allowed?
No such thing as allowed or not allowed. We just did.
Isn’t there a strong current in the east river? Yeah! Twice a day (like I’m stupid)
So, you had to be a good swimmer? Oh yeah.
It wasn’t a big thick river. You could swim across to the other side but that was none of your business. The other side.
How come? You mind your own business. Different kids over there.
What was on the other side?
New York on my side and I think Jersey on the other side.
On the end was Rikers island.
What Elementary school did you go to? I don’t remember. Catholic. There were nuns. Oh, I remember I was left handed. And out in the hall one day there were two men laughing and there was a nun crying.
Why was she crying? They insisted that she break me of the left hand. They thought it was funny. Those two guys. I remember that. Those clowns. I felt so sorry for her so I tried to help her in every way I could.
How?I tried to write with my right hand. (Again, like I’m stupid)
I was only in first grade. Those clowns.
Who did you hang around with?
My brother Chris. Eddie was oldest he didn’t hang around with us.
Chris had a condition. Medical.
And then he died, right? I don’t remember.
What was your First job? Delivering telegrams. I had a bike!
How old were you then? About sixteen.
I had my own bike. A cheap one. But my older brother, he guessed how many peas were in a jar in the window of a store and he got the first prize and he gave it to me. It was a expensive bike. It had a clock and a speedometer. It was classy. I stood out. It was a sixty dollar bike. Most bikes were ten.
Why did he give it to you? I guess he didn’t ride bikes. He was older.
Do you remember what High School you went to? Yeah, I think it was called High School of Commerce.
Where was it? West side of 65th street all the way by the Hudson River.
Did you ride a school bus? No, I don’t remember. I think I walked. There were no school buses.
How old when joined Navy? Seventeen.
Were you drafted? I joined (like I’m stupid)
(I asked several Navy questions but he was getting mixed up so he turned on the tv and cranked up the volume. He’s told the navy stories a couple thousand times. It’s a little surprising that this is where he got mixed up.)