50 Life Lessons My Pop Pop Taught Me – Part 2

Editor’s Note: This is the last installment of a two-part series. Did you miss Part 1? Don’t fret, you can view it here. 

It’s been a little over a month since we lost my Pop Pop, the Bernie in my blog Arthur & Bernie. He was 96, so it’s hard to say it came as a shock, but somehow, it did.

The two of us, in his front yard

The road through grief is a bumpy one. To help, I put together a list of important lessons I never want to forget – things my grandfather taught me, things our relationship taught me. That way, I figured, I’d have something to hold onto. Fifty seemed like a lot at the outset, but now that I’m through, I find myself thinking of more every day.

I miss you, Pop Pop, but it sure is nice seeing you around.

26) Home is a sacred place. Pop Pop’s wish was for his house to be landmarked. We did the next best thing: We put a plaque outside the front door, and dedicated it ourselves. Official or not, home should be a landmark – the landmark – on our map. Right?

27) Eat dessert. Whenever you want. And pop a Dove dark chocolate or two in the in-between.

28) Have a firm handshake and a soft hug. Use them often.

29) Write letters…Hand-written notes trump emails any day. Bernie sent birthday cards, holiday cards and just-because cards with real messages in them (as opposed to those holiday portrait prints with “Sincerely, The Fishers” scribbled on the back.)

30) …And save letters. Pop Pop kept a shoebox full of correspondence with Dibi during their courtship. The other night, I sifted through my own box, and every other letter was from him, in his writing. It was like his voice in my ear.

31) Laugh out loud. Moe, Larry and Curley (and, later, Seinfeld) were Bernie favorites. When he watched, he wouldn’t just chuckle. He’d belly laughed so hard the neighbors could hear. Why hold it in?

Note on the episode here: My cousin Seth and his 10-year-old son Isaac watched “Pardon My Scotch” on YouTube with Pop Pop a few years back – three generations around one laptop, cracking up at jokes from the 30s. I emailed Seth to see if he remembered which episode it was exactly. It was a Sunday and he lives across the country, but within minutes, a reply popped up in my inbox with the link. Of course he remembered. “The hilarity begins around minute 12 with the opera singer…still one of Isaac’s favorite scenes of all time.”

32) Give back. When I wrote Pop Pop’s obit, I had to decide which organizations to include. They couldn’t all fit! His passion for service, I think, inspired me to seek out DOROT, the New York-based nonprofit that introduced me to my grandfriend Arthur.

33) You get what you pay for. When you shop, buy for quality, even if it means you’ve got to splurge a little.

34) Secrets are okay. Particularly, keep Goodwill purchases to yourself if you’re the granddaughter of a fine clothing store owner. No matter how amazing they are, he will not be impressed.

The portrait I keep on my desk

35.) Remember names. And stories. Make every city a small town by saying hello and making connections.

36) Grandparents were boyfriends, fiancés, newlyweds. The Greatest Generation truly is our greatest resource. They lived through wars, elections and economic crises – and they also lived through first jobs, first apartments, first loves. Scroll through Before They Were Grandparents, if you haven’t already.

37) Know how to mix a martini. I haven’t learned (or acquired a taste) yet, but someday I will, and my mom will show me the way Pop Pop showed her.

38) Read the paper. Whether it’s the hard copy (Pop Pop’s choice) or the digital subscription, staying informed should be like brushing your teeth – just part of the routine.

39) Paperwork = tedium. But necessary nonetheless. Fill it out. Send it off. Move on.

40) Ride the train. Things change, but the Amtrak remains. In 1943, Pop Pop took it to New York City for his honeymoon. Today, I take that same line. Time travel exists.

41) Become a regular. When I visited Pop Pop, a dinner at Amici’s was always on the menu. It was his dining room away from home – so much so that the owner attended his funeral.

42) Visit the cemetery. And instead of leaving small stones, a Jewish custom, leave dimes and nickels and pennies on the graves.

43) Consider the bottom line. A couple years ago, I had a big career decision to make. Do I take an exciting job even though it’s outside my industry? What will that mean for later on in my professional life? Is this the right move, right now? I talked to Pop Pop about it, and his question: “Well, what’s the bottom line?” Reality checked.

44) Listen to Tony Bennett. Prepare to leave your heart there.

Martinis to celebrate Ruth and Bernie’s 63rd wedding anniversary

45) Celebrate the small stuff. Pop Pop was a Leo, and so were a handful of his close friends. So every August, in addition to their own dinners and drinks, they held an annual Leo Party. Because!

46) Shop local. Give the small guy business when you can, even though Walmart raisin cookies are quite tasty.

47) Sit on the porch. Wine tastes better out there.

48) Put the house to bed. Shut the curtains, turn out the lights, and look around for a minute before saying goodnight. I think of Pop Pop as I close the shutters at the end of each day.

49) Tell people you love them. Say it every phone call. Write it in every letter. And if you want to, write it a few times for impact, like Pop Pop would.

50) Check-ins can be the best medicine. It’s true for the person calling and the person answering. My 11:30 a.m. call to Pop Pop was my time to stop, dial and listen. Was anything ever more important at 11:30 a.m.?

Tweet me what you learned from your grandparents or parents at #50lessons. And visit AARP Foundation to see how they’re working to combat and prevent isolation in people age 50 and over.