In the midst of choosing his suit and recommending pall bearers, Pop forgot to tell us what he wanted in his eulogy, and so I am left to my own devices this morning. I can only reflect on the last 25 years of this wonderful man’s life. If you want to go back a bit further, please find his sister or children. They can tell you stories. And if you want to go back a lot further, please find Cousin Mae or his best man, Jack, they can tell you even more stories. But, for now, I just want to reflect on the small things that I noticed as his grandson – his ingenuity, smile, kindness, wit, devotion, and sense of humor.
My initial impressions of Pop, from the mid-1980s, are much different from the ones I have now. My earliest memories include him, Grandmom, Uncle Frank, Uncle Chas, Aunt Teresa and other assorted characters from the Armstrong and Payne families sitting around the kitchen table, telling stories and having a good time. I also recall huge batman comic books in the basement and the watermill he kept on the back deck. Even at a young age, I was amazed at the way he worked with his hands. In fact, as I was writing this, the fan in my room broke and I couldn’t help but think “Pop would know why this fan broke.”
His ingenuity can be seen throughout 416. Someone mentioned the other day that a contractor never set foot in the house. An architect might show up and draw him the plans, but then he would do it. His ingenuity is one of many nuances we will miss about him. He was skilled with his hands and put those skills on display every Friday night at the bowling alley. As kids, it was rare that we were allowed to stop by the bowling alley on Friday nights – I can’t imagine why they were keeping the under 10 crowd out – but it was there that I stared in awe at his team’s name and wondered what it meant. My wonder has changed. Now, I wonder how many of those nights he stopped by Callahan’s on the way home. Or how many times he followed it up with a Saturday night trip to Cavanaugh’s with Grandmom.
My later memories of him include stories about the war - the canteens (he and his fellow soldiers) used and food they ate while traversing the German countryside and the R&R they took in France. As I grew older, I recognized his devotion to my grandmother more and more. He never left her side. He was dedicated. In these ways, he was not an overcomplicated man. Upon hearing the news that I was moving to China, he said it would be much easier to move to 11th and Race. This was a reflection of his simplicity - and in that little statement, you could see his wit. He always had something clever to say. That wit of his – I think that is what I will miss the most. In the days following Grandmom’s passing, which I am sure were incredibly difficult, he maintained his sense of humor, referring to 416 as “The bachelor pad.” No situation was taken too seriously, which was a key to his longevity. And he did not complain or make excuses. In fact, just the opposite was true. If one was seeking kind words, you could do no better than Barney. I guess that’s one of the reasons the line stretched down to 25th street last night.
My brother Brendan, who could not be here today, reflects on Pop’s curiosity about his grandchildren’s lives. Whatever sport Brendan was playing, Pop wanted to know about it. Brendan also recalls stopping by 416 a few weeks ago. Pop was watching the Phillies game and informed Brendan shortly after he arrived that Cole Hamels was a bum.
There are certain things you take for granted, simply because they are the staples of your life. Aren’t everyone’s parents from Schuylkill? And everyone’s uncles and aunt are kind and humorous, right? I took these things for granted until the last few days when person after person repeatedly commented on how polite all of Pop’s children are. This is a tribute to him and it would be an understatement to say that the man obviously did something right.
We will miss you, Pop. In the simplest terms, we miss you already. Schuylkill has lost one of its finest. And, after nearly four years apart, we hope you have found Grandmom and your siblings and that all of you are sitting around the kitchen table of heaven, enjoying each other’s company, entertaining each other, and having an Ortlieb’s. You wouldn’t have it any other way. And neither would we.
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