Grandpa Joe turned 90 this week.
No, I’m not talking about iconic Penn State football Coach Joe Paterno, though he’s certainly inching toward that historic milestone. No, Grandpa Joe is, well, my grandfather.
It’s impossible to sum up the lifetime of a 90-year-old man in a few hundred words. People fortunate enough to reach that age have done more things, experienced more significant events and known more people than the rest of us can imagine. They have lived through the Depression, two world wars, prohibition, the assassination of political and social leaders, 9/11, the dawning of the computer and television eras and disco.
They’ve seen things, people.
And very few can recall the minute details of these things quite like Grandpa Joe. Oh, he might not hear as well as he used to, and moving from one place to another is not as easy a task as it once was, but he’s still there. He still cracks dreadfully corny jokes that make me laugh. He still reads the newspaper every day. And he still follows his beloved Chicago Cubs on a daily basis — often vowing that he’s not going anywhere until the Cubs win the World Series.
So, yeah, I feel secure that he’ll be around a while.
I’ve often enjoyed a few similarities with Grandpa Joe. We are both baseball fanatics, and I have always been spellbound by his encyclopedic knowledge of players throughout history. He still tells stories of watching Hack Wilson play for the Cubs, a team he last played for in 1931, and he still looks at the box scores daily.
He was also a newspaper man, though I think the term “was” is misplaced, as it’s often said that once the ink gets in your blood, it stays there. He worked as a reporter, editor and publisher, running a union newspaper in New York until his retirement.
And, as I mentioned before, he has a ridiculously corny sense of humor — something that matches my own. I remember driving with him once when I was a kid. He pointed out a cemetery we were passing and said, “See that place? It’s very popular. People are just dying to get in there.”
I groaned at first, but the torrent of laughter coming from him over his corny joke got me laughing, as well. The last time I saw him, in June, he was pointing out a construction project next to his assisted living facility, and telling me that he was keeping an eye on the project, making sure they were staying on schedule. I shook my head. He laughed. And, just like before, he got me laughing with him.
We’ve also shared an affection for poker over the years, and I remember many visits to New York when I was a kid when Grandpa Joe would scarf down dinner with the family before running off to his regular poker game. Family obviously came first, but he was going to be there when the cards hit the felt.
But this piece isn’t necessarily about what he’s accomplished over the years, or what he used to like to do when he was younger. No, this is supposed to be about a man who just celebrated his 90th birthday, and is still contributing. He is still in love with his wife, still spends time with my mother and still can make his grandson laugh with a corny joke.
I’ve been blessed to have had two grandfathers that I’ve looked up to, and had the good fortune to have both of them for the first 30-plus years of my life. There’s not a lot of people who can say that. My other grandfather passed in 2002, but very few days pass when I don’t think of something he did or said. I miss him. But I still do have Grandpa Joe. And I’m grateful for that.
Happy Birthday, Joe. You’re one in a million.