"My father. He—" Her fingers, grabbing at her throat, clench and relax and clench again. "He's dead. That was my sister, Florence, on the phone. She told me our father died in a hospital a short while ago."
"But he just visited us." Frank had ridden the Hiawatha train from Chicago to Wisconsin Rapids. Cousin Robert had driven him in Robert's new 1951 two-door Mercury from Oak Park, Illinois, to Chicago's Union Station.
Francisco "Frank" Giavonni and I go fishing in the river behind J. C. Penneys on the concrete island. Seventy-five years old, he climbs down a rickety steel ladder and back up again. He's so proud I catch a huge carp with a doughball wrapped around a big hook, hiding it. So proud, we walk up Baker Street hill, hauling that stinky fish all the way home. Horns honk. "My-ah grandson. He-ah caught a whale," Frank announces. He's dead. Forever. I begin to bawl, almost as much as Mother. "Why'd he have to die?"
"God," Mother answers, swallowing hard, her Adams apple rising and falling like a yoyo, "wants him to be with Him in heaven."
"I don’t want him to be in heaven. I want him to be here, on earth.”
"He was such a good man, but he's now with my mother, your Grandmother Palma."
"But I don't want Grampa in to be in heaven with Grandma. She scared me."
Mother wipes at tears. "How did my mother scare you?"
"She sucked and swallowed goo out of raw eggs plus her singing sounded like nervous ducks, quacking away. I want Grampa to be alive in Oak Park, Illinois, enjoying his Coffee Royale with Fat Aunt Florence and Uncle Leo Pier Dominici."
"You don't understand, Gordon. You're too young."
"I understand that my Grampa who went fishing with me and taught me what the best pocket watch in the world was, is no more. He can't drink his morning Coffee Royale anymore, and he won't be able to tell me how anything works. He'll be six feet under in a cemetery."
Mother has no comeback. I don't eat breakfast. I dress instead and go outdoors to my shack behind the garage, kneel, and climb in. Being alone doesn't help. So, I leave the shack and walk. When I make it to Turbin's grocery store, Bob Martin smiles and waves at me from across the street. I wave back. With jet-black hair and build like Charles Atlas plus a Sherman tank, Bob wears a white butcher apron. He chats with Romie Nelson while helping Romie, ripping heavy cardboard meat boxes with bare hands. Meat boxes are extra strong but Bob's Popeye-like arms rip apart those boxes as if they're nothing at all.
Looking both ways, I run across the busy street and make it to the front of Nelsons' garage where Romie keeps his paper and cardboard baler. He makes money by selling the baled stuff to the paper mill. "Hi ya, Carrot Top? How ya doin'?"
"Hi, Go-dun, waaah," manages Romie. Romie's the only person I know with cerebral palsy. Before he speaks, his face scrunches up and his arms thrash about as if he's going to drown in the deep end of our city’s swimming pool because he hasn't learned how to swim. Eventually, a word comes, most of the time just before, "Waaah."
"Hi, Romie." I look to Bob. "My Grampa died.
"That's awful. My condolences."
"Well, they mean I'm sorry for your loss but I feel helpless at the same time. Which grandpop died, the Eye-talian?"
"Yes." Bob pats my shoulder with a hand as large as a bear's foot, its touch as soft as a cat's paw.
"If I remember correctly, he was very close to you. Death's a hard thing to accept, Carrot Top, especially when it comes to grandpops. I lost both when I was your age. I'll never forget either one. They're not like parents. They spoil the heck out of grandsons, don't ya' know?"
"Yes, Grampa Frank was more like a friend than a relative."
"That's what I was trying to say. Grandpops are like that. My Grandpop Fred, Dad's dad, gave me my first .22 single shot rifle for squirrel hunting. It was a gift for him from his dad when he was a kid."
"As true as I'm standing here, talking to my buddy, Carrot Top. I still have it."
"I didn't know you went hunting."
Bob laughs. "Well, I did but I don't. I'm too busy making a living."
I wear my first smile of the day. "Thank you, Bob. Your words always help." I pull out my Ingersoll pocket watch and check the time.
One of Bob's big hands rests on one of my shoulders. "You don't have to thank me. Again, accept my condolences."
"I do, Bob. I accept them. You're a good friend."
"Hey, Bob." That was Mr. Peters, Bob's partner who hates kids. "You got a customer who wants a beef roast."
"Be right there," calls Bob. "See ya later, Romie." Bob heads to the store's rear door.
“Bye Bob, Waaah.”
"Thanks, Bob." I wave at him and Romie, both men waving back. I go home and grab about six slices of fresh Holsum bread for doughballs. I ride the Schwinn to Daly's drug store and walk it down the alley and lean it against the river wall above the concrete island where Grampa and I went fishing. Down the ladder with my rod and reel, I grab two slices of bread and soak them in the river. I squeeze them over and over again and make a gooey doughball and wrap it around a hook. After I cast out the line, I look up to white clouds and blue sky. "I'll never forget you, Grampa. Never."