On Tuesday, around 3 a.m., my grandfather died. Papa Phil was 97-years-old and led a pretty good life. He wasn't rich, wasn't well-known outside of his neighborhood, but he had a good life. He came to the U.S. from Italy with his parents when he was a child, grew up to become a small-business owner—from butcher shops to laundromats—and had a family. He died in a one-bedroom apartment in Queens that he shared with my aunt and uncle, his caretakers in the last years of this life.
Papa Phil was my last remaining grandparent. Now that he’s gone, a whole generation of my family is too. It’s an odd thing to get older, and to watch your family structure shift.
The truth is that I didn't know my grandfather very well. He and my grandmother divorced when my father was a teenager, and he moved down south with a new wife before I was born. The only vivid memory I have of him from childhood was picking oranges in his backyard. But still, I was lucky—I had him, two grandmothers and much-loved step-grandparents.
But I find myself bereft today that my daughter, Layla, won’t know my grandparents. She’ll know their names and the stories we tell her, but not the glorious minutiae. Like my maternal grandmother, a devoutly Catholic woman raised in an orphanage who told dirty jokes and threatened (credibly) to stab a man who was abusing her daughter.