“POPPOP” By Mick Benderoth
Visiting my mother, after my father died, was a treat. Good food and family reminisce were a welcomed diversion from my editing job in NYC. One morning she had a doctor’s appointment so I was alone. I picked up two rubber hand excessive balls I got from Amazon. I had some arthritis in my hands, my orthopedist said they would help. I plopped on the bed, reading the local paper, as I squeezed the balls. One popped out of my hand, dropped on the floor and rolled under the bed. I got up, kneeled down to retrieve it, and saw a box.
I slithered under and pulled it out. Sitting on the floor, I opened it. It was Mom’s collection of family photos, filled to brimming. I dug in. Lots of pictures my brother Steve and I when were little. One brought back a lost memory. Steve and I with a man I hadn’t thought about in years, our step grandfather, Poppop, a man we loved dearly.
Every Sunday, Poppop and Nana, the name we called our, grandmother, came to visit. Steve and I were always over excited. Poppop took us on adventures, Duck Pin bowling, the ball small enough for us to hold and roll down the alley, Baltimore land marks like Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key wrote the Star-Spangled Banner, the Shot Tower where soldiers at the top poured molten lead to the ground forming bullets for their flintlocks. We adored him. I can still smell the old spice shaving lotion he wore as I hugged him.
Nana was a piano player and was teaching Steve how to play. Poppop, an electrical engineer at Bell Telephone, was keen on my interest in electronics and bought me a subscription to a magazine called Popular Science, filled with experiments you could do at home. Together we picked the one that piqued our interest.
Poppop and Nana still came to Sunday dinner after we moved into a bigger house in the more affluent, ever expanding Baltimore suburbs. Steve and my weekend social life got busy. We started a rock and roll band, but still made Sunday dinner, playing catch with Poppop in the back yard, then dashing off to band practice. I was in love with our singer, Debby Cooper. Her father was a cantor in the local synagogue. She had a unique vocal style and classy stage presence. Unfortunately, her family moved to Connecticut. Steve cared nothing about my broken heart. We needed a new singer, period.
A friend of a friend told us about a guy vocalist looking for a gig. We invited him to hear us play. His name was Lucius Clay and he was black. His voice blew us away. Lucius was just we needed…soul.
One Sunday dinner, sitting around the table, my father announced that he had sold one of his seafood franchises to a chain of Jewish Delicatessen owners. Unexpectedly, Poppop, sneered “You sold to Jews! What’s next niggers?” I felt like I was punched in the stomach. My eyes shifted to Steve. He just lowered his head. Our beloved Poppop was an anti-Semitic racist. Mom diplomatically changed the subject, but Sunday dinners would never be the same.