Crepes, Grief, and a Memory: Tribute to My Popa

While reading, listen to It’s Alright by Fractures.

This is a tribute to my Popa, who passed away after 79 beautiful years of life on January 25th, 2018.

It was the second week of May, finals were upon us, and the sky poetically rained.

The gloom felt like an omen of what was surely going to be the demise of my US History grade. I finished my test early (rarely a good sign), and drove the two-minute journey to Popa and Grammy's house. Why? Because I firmly believe there is nothing a good cup of coffee and a game of Phase 10 can’t fix, and that was the surest place to find both. Her car was gone, but Popa’s van remained.

I let myself in.

Popa and Grammy's house smells of Gloria Jean coffee beans, Chanel No. 5, leather boots, and fresh cut jasmine.

All at once.

The wind whistled through every backdoor and window sill crack, the backyard chimes roaring, and the faint sound of afternoon TV played from the back room. Muscle memory or being hangry (call it what you like), lead me to the infamous snack drawer, and a handful of chocolate covered almonds after that. I walked further, finding Popa there.

He was always there, I didn’t think much about when always would change.

Popa sat in his recliner chair, a few cups halfway filled with something on the table beside him. His clothes were unmistakably ironed; his appearance neatly kept. When he saw me, he brightened and split from the tv daze. When Popa smiled, he smiled with his whole face. Everything became happier, his eyes, his nose, his cheeks.

Even his ears joined in the rising.

“Hey, kid!”

It’s an under-appreciated gift to always be a kid, to never outgrow the person in front of you. A safety that comes from them knowing more, living more, seeing life and seasons and trends as the revolving door it all is.

“I’m starving kid, wanna go get breakfast?”

I hesitated.

Looking back, I’m ashamed I did. But I think moments of shame have the opportunity to propel us forward, to teach us about what we’ll do different next time. Though the reality remains, there are fewer next times than we’d like.

Truthfully, my Popa and I didn’t spend a lot of one on one time together. I have always been closer to Grammy, felt I had more in common with her. Popa seemed so different from me.

I was a forest and Popa, a plain.

But I said yes, and man, am I glad I did.

We walked out of the house and Popa walked toward my car. I was surprised, Popa drove me everywhere. To soccer practice. From cross country practice. To ballet. I had never driven him anywhere, not once.

The minute we fastened our seat belts, he tinkered with every knob and lever, making sure it satisfied him, that they all did what they were supposed to. He asked me to turn up the music because he loved this song. It was Use Somebody by Kings of Leon, I’ll always remember that. I knew he didn’t know it, but I loved how sure he was that he it was good.

Reminded me of how he knew he loved me. Right away, assuredly, and no matter what.

We went to Frodo Joe’s on Hesperian Blvd, and shared a crepe at a table tucked in the back corner of the shop. He ordered an Earl Grey tea, and told me I owed him a sip of my chai latte. As he struggled to get the spare change back into his wallet, shaky hands, and with a hint of frustration, his age struck me. The cafe was bustling with all the sounds of a morning rush, but it was then I heard the Lord whisper in my ear:

“Your time with Popa is brief, a blink of an eye. Be all here.”

I listened.

I silenced my phone, and we sat at that back table, talking and laughing for a little over two hours. I didn’t know then that this was the last time we would do this.

He told me about how much he loved his sisters. He told me about his mom, how she was artist, and often snuck away from the noise of home for a cigarette. He told me about Texas, Germany, his days in PG&E, and that surge of fear and joy he felt when each of his children were born.

He told me about the next surprise he had up his sleeve for Grammy, and that I should never straighten my hair. He told me to wait until I was 30 to get married, and that I had no reason to fear that, “Because kid, you’ll be just as gorgeous then.”

He listened intently as I ripped my heart open for him to see, sharing that I still believed in the Church and I wanted to be a part of her revival.

He told me I would.

It was like drinking water from a fire hydrant, feeling everything slow around him, and watching the lines on his face soften and deepen with the ebbs and flows of his story. His kindness put me at ease. His interest to listen made me feel like I mattered.

The crepes disappeared and so did the rest of our afternoon.

Then, like all good movies and great lives, it had to come to an end.

We drove home, quietly listening to the jazz station, with the occasional note from Popa, pointing out the intricacies of every saxophone note. I thought to myself that I would be someone who asked more questions, that I would live a life full of gumption, that I would share more crepes with the people I love, because time - well it eventually runs out.

We parked, and he got out of the car, turning towards his home, his little heaven on Earth. He looked at me, and with a knowing smile said, “Tori, go change the world. I know you will be great, but don’t forget to be good.”

I told him I would.

That was my Popa. He was great, but he was also good.


P.S. Thank you for all of your kind words & prayers. They have truly made the weight of grief lighter.