Joseph Giannini, 3/18/25-12/2/14
I look at the ages that some of my writer and musician heroes died—in their 30s or younger, maybe 51 or 67 or 71. Some who didn’t get nearly enough, some who got just the right amount—but is there such a thing? My grandfather, my biggest hero, made 89. That’s pretty good. And very healthy most of it, even if he worried too much the last ten years. Part of that worry was knowing that the road was running out, I guess.
My love of my grandfather is enormous—I don’t have a bad memory of him. Nothing mean ever passed between us. Maybe a minor frustration here or there—him trying to teach me something about being a good fix-it guy and me being incapable of learning. I don’t think he ever read a book but my love of stories comes straight from him. He never said a commonplace thing, never told a boring story. Everyone got a nickname and these nicknames were always beautiful, sometimes random and strange, and they ignited my love of naming. I modeled my speech on him. When I was 14, quiet, most of what I said was what he would’ve said. That carried me through college, became my language, so now my voice is his voice. I scoured his closet and wore his old mechanics jackets. I called him for stories—tell me about the Cockroach Inn again, tell me about insulating the kitchen walls with beer cans, what happened that time at Peggy’s Runway, give me some good Atlantic City details. I tape-recorded and filmed him constantly as a kid, out on the porch, where he always looked like the captain of the neighborhood.
He was obsessed with the parking situation in front of the house, rattled whenever someone blocked the driveway. He was hilarious when he drank scotch—my first drink was Johnnie Walker in imitation. He liked movies, The Frog That Ate Tokyo, Death Wish. He loved Benny Hill. I remember watching TV with him on Friday nights—he’d have a bowl of potato chips or some small snack and he’d look so happy. I loved to watch him cut pastries. Everything he did, he did all the way. When he fixed things, he made them better. I loved his voice. I loved his pauses. I loved his green cup. I loved the way he’d stop to feel if the heat was coming up in the kitchen. I loved watching him pray the rosary before Mass, the way the beads dangled over his fingers. His was a quiet and humble faith. My favorite thing about Mass as a kid was watching him as an usher—he did it so proudly that his pride was contagious. Late in life, his hand shook from the Parkinson’s—I loved that shake. I loved that he and my grandmother were married so long, sixty-three years, and I loved them together. I loved how he worried about my mother, how he loved her. I loved the advice he gave me when I really needed it, some broken heart, some melancholy I couldn’t shake, and he was always there with some choice line I won’t share now—I’m saving them. Never a cliché, never the same thing everyone else said. Being around (or even just hearing about) my kids made him smile, right up to the end when I played him a video of our newest, Connolly Jean, and his tired eyes lit up. A million things I loved, too many to name here—I’ll spend my life loving all the things I loved about him, writing about them, carrying them with me. But one more: he was funny all the time. When I was home in November, he looked good, the best he’d looked in a while, and he was having a late bowl of cereal. He held up the box and smiled wide and said, “You got Honey Nut Cheerios in Mississippi?”
I’ll also spend my life with some regrets—I didn’t see him as much as I could’ve and should’ve since we moved south six years ago, I lost my old tapes of him, I didn’t write down certain stories that demanded documentation. But what is loss without regret? I’ll never lose the feeling of having been around him, of having been raised by him.
My grandfather hated to say goodbye. He didn’t go to funerals. People might’ve taken that the wrong way, I don’t know—I always took it as a quality that made him the most beautiful of all. He was incapable of being phony. He hated when the people he loved would leave. He’d duck away before we could get to him if he knew he wasn’t going to see us for a few months. I’ll miss him more than I’ve ever missed anyone or anything, but I won’t say goodbye. I’ll say what he would’ve said: “See you when the weather gets better.”