At 3, I knew he was the one for me. I’d toddle after him like a kitten tangled in his feet as he charmed and enchanted the whole neighborhood.
My granddad was what you would call an altruist…a person believing
in the practice of disinterest and selfless concern for the well-being of others. Kind, compassionate, considerate and charitable.
And I firmly believe this is where I get my deep sense of empathy from.
Certainly not my parents who were so self-absorbed they couldn’t see two feet in front of their liquor cabinet.
It only takes one great influence to see you on your way, and he was it.
Bartholomew Palvario, known to the world as Pop, was my Saint Paul.
I don’t think I have known a happier human being.
Married to my cranky grandmother for over 65 years, he spent his life doing for others with grace and love.
As a little person I watched while he raked leaves and shoveled snow, planted seeds and took out trash for everyone, smiling and singing for the mere joy of service.
“Why are you doing that Grampa?” I’d ask, being nosy even then.
“Be’a cus…I’a can…an’a you, my Susilina, can’a help.”
So there I’d be in my little rubber pants and boots making mini piles of snow he’d scoop up so I’d learn how to help.
It’s funny when you think about it.
A retired baker, he’d cook in his precious basement rolls and hot cross buns, pizza and Italian fruit cake he’d share with his neighbors while singing Italian songs.
I was in New York modeling when my mother called to say he was dying. He had gone downhill in a hurry after having an accident in the yard. The doctor said, no more driving for Pop…no more tending to the needs of others…it’s time for him to rest.
Well, as you can imagine, this did not go over too well. If he couldn’t be who he always was, then he wasn’t going to be at all.
No one gets this better than his youngest granddaughter.
My mother, over the phone, in her best insensitive voice said, “Don’t bother hurrying…he’ll be gone before you get here.”
“You tell him Ma…I’m coming…do you hear me. I’M COMING,” hopping on a Metro North Train.
When I got to St. Vincents Hospital, in its oldest, bleakest wing they’ve since knocked down, he was waiting for me, as I knew he’d be. There was no way he would ever leave the earth without saying goodbye to his favorite grandchild.
As I entered the room unprepared for what I saw…a man who always loomed large for me now small and fragile with bruises on his beautiful face from his subsequent fall.
I started to cry like I was little all over again.
He reached his arms out to me, so thin…so weak, and said, “My Susilina…dun’ta yua cad’i. It’s’a ok…Pop, he’a love you.”
I kissed him on his good cheek before a nurse came in to say he needed rest.
Five minutes after walking out into the hallway, he passed.
He would have been 115 years old today.
Happy Birthday Pop…miss you.