I feel like I just read this, but in reality it’s been a while.
It would be very easy for a eulogy honoring my Grandpa to take form as a list numbering all the reasons why he will be a missed presence in the political world of New Bedford and the greater Massachusetts area. It would be simple to get up and explain why he was considered to be a wonderful man by his community. But I think if you are sitting in this church out of respect for Sylvester Sylvia, the majority of you probably know of his vast array of accomplishments. You most likely have a reason you will miss him. I always knew my grandfather was a respected man, and I know he did great things in the course of his life. But the majority of those events took place before I was born so I am not the person most qualified to comment upon them, nor will I try to be. What I think a eulogy is really meant to do is leave you with the luxury of knowing about the little things that those who knew him most dearly are going miss because it was the little things that made him one of my favorite people in the world.
My Grandpa always carried a handkerchief. I don’t know why that seems so important to me, but it does. Maybe it’s because I don’t know a single soul who still does, and it reminds me of the kind of man he was. A gentleman, so very put together. Prepared, and filled with a sense of class and decorum that is not even a little bit commonplace anymore, tragically. He was of another age.
As many of you know, his passing was unexpected. It’s very odd to me that I cannot speak to him again. I suppose I kind of still expect to see him mosey into the kitchen and ask, “So what’s new?” That was his line. Rarely was anything particularly new in the last week or days or sometimes hours since he’d last inquired, but he always asked. He was curious about life, and he was curious about you.
From a young age I’ve loved to read and he’d always ask me what book I was reading, cast a glance at the cover, and shake his head with disdain after hearing it was, once again, fiction. He’d spit the term out like a curse word. He loved biographies and newspapers, loved a constant influx of knowledge about the lives being led around him. Were he even the last bit computer savvy, I think he would have loved the possibilities offered by the Internet, but it became evident that would never be a viable option after I discovered at age eight that he lacked the ability to move his right finger independent of his left. You’d think this would be more upsetting to me, given that one of my majors is Information Systems, but as we all know, Syl had other more valuable skill sets. He managed to read a minimum of three newspapers a day, sometimes more. This being said, I think he was probably very proud that my freshman year of college I fell into an editorial position on the staff of The Heights, our independent newspaper at BC. I know he read the complimentary copies that get sent to my parents in the mail, and I remember him complementing me once saying, “Hey, you know that’s quite a paper!” Always the tone of surprise Grandpa. Of course I knew he was proud of me, but I think he was almost checking to make sure that I knew to be proud of it myself. I think he did that because he himself was a very humble man.
Although he can lay claim to more accomplishments in a lifetime than anyone I’ve ever met, he didn’t regard himself as anyone particularly out of the ordinary. Those of us who knew him of course know the truth. He’s an exceptional person.
As I’ve gotten older I noticed he thought back a lot on how often he has voiced his opinions (both negative and positive) over the course of my life. He seemed almost apologetic in recent years, occasionally joking about being “tough one me”. I think he worried that his vocalism over the years would be taken too personally. To be honest, although his criticism may have worn on my nerves when I was little, I don’t think anything he ever suggested was particularly unreasonable. Grandpa never hurt my feelings. He just loved me.
He used to make this noise when I was little, my cousins who are in South Africa would remember it too. He’d never tell us “no” instead he’d just go “ah ah ahhh!” Basically just insinuating “I don’t think you should be doing that should you?” He was usually right. One of his other go-to lines had to have stemmed from his childhood during the Great Depression. He’d insist we finish our milk with the call to arms of “Milk time!” To this day if I drink milk with dinner (which I usually do) I drain the glass before I get up. Some habits stick. I can’t tell you how any times I had to exasperatedly explain that just because I sneezed did not mean I was getting sick. I have really bad allergies but Grandpa would always give me the accusatory “You getting a cold?” Credit where credit’s due, he was consistent. I respond to the name “Ann, ah I mean Alex eh Christina” because I was addressed with it so often. I knew he was talking to me. It never dawned on me how unusual it must have sounded to someone else until my mother once called him out on it. I just figured their names came faster since they’d been leading ladies longer than me.
I saw my first jazz performance with my Grandpa. Just the two of us set off to see Wynton Marsalis on a winter’s night. It was snowing, so naturally he didn’t want to drive. Although Gary carefully drove us to the Ziterion, after the show we procured a ride home with some stranger I’d never met who (no surprise) knew my grandfather. Imagine the luxury of being in a public place with the reassurance that someone will randomly drive you home? The killer was, he couldn’t remember the name of this gratuitous stranger. Instead of just leaving it alone though, when we pulled up to 133 Plymouth Street he dropped the bomb, “Now sir, you know my name….but I’ve forgotten yours. Who are you?” My fourteen-year-old self was absolutely mortified but not Mr. Curious, he always had to get the facts. He was shameless with questions. He asked a boyfriend of mine point-blank last summer, “So, what kind of grades are you getting at Boston College?” I started laughing at how straightforward he was because you can’t just ask people things like that!
He did love to talk about grades though. Education was something he really valued, and I’m so blessed that he was here to see me go to college. The first few years of high school I doubted that Bishop Stang was the right place for me. How silly of me to not have realized how much more it meant to him to have me so close at a school he constantly read about. In high school and even college, whenever I’d stop by to visit he’d have saved me the sports section of the paper so I could keep up with how Stang’s teams were doing. I think he may have been a bigger Stang sports fan than I was actually. He definitely paid more attention than I did at the football games. He loved sports of all kinds and I know my dad will miss having his fellow lifelong Red Sox fan watching highlights with him. He could have had a great career as a sports caster we all used to joke with him, because he had a scholarship to Northwestern for journalism. I think he probably never regretted taking a different path though, because it led him to my Grandma.
My grandpa taught me by example to believe in the potential of love. I have friends who scoff at sappy sentimental movies like The Notebook because they think love stories like that only ever happen on the silver screen played by beautiful actors and actresses in perfect settings. I just smile to myself and think of how I knew two people whose love story would make an equally sappy and beautiful movie. I have a vivid memory of sitting in our family room watching P.S. I Love You with the two of them. I can’t summarize the whole movie (it would be as my dad says, “too much detail”…) but it basically involves a young man dying of terminal cancer who writes letters that are delivered to his wife after his death. It’s his last letter and he’s telling her why he’s written it. He says
I want to tell you how much you move me, how much you changed me. You made me a man by loving me. And for that I’m eternally grateful…literally. If you can promise me anything, promise me whenever you’re sad or unsure, or you lose complete faith, that you’ll try to see yourself through my eyes. Thank you for the honor of being my wife. I’m a man with no regrets. How lucky am I. You made my life. But I’m just one chapter in yours.
As this was said, my grandma was watching the movie, but my grandpa was watching her. And if you saw the way his eyes were shining, you’d know that there are people in this world for whom love stories like that are a reality. He was a romantic. My grandma told me once that he sometimes would send her cards from years before in the mail, just so she could receive them again. He spoke her love language in a way like no other. All day, every day, he told my grandma exactly how beautiful she was and how much he loved her. Every meal she made was the best one ever. They went to Italy together last summer and I was told by one of the girls that travelled with them that when they weren’t together, he’d be looking for postcards to mail home to the house so when they got back she could read how happy he was to be there with her. As I read this to my Grandma, she corrected me that those post cards came not only that time, but with every trip they ever went on. I recall being on the beach last summer and watching them set off on a walk together holding hands. A family friend, also watching, commented, “That’s so great that they’re still so in love after all these years.” That’s why it makes me so sad that he’s going to miss his 60th wedding anniversary next year. I’m also a little bitter that he won’t be there to attend my wedding and tell me whether he feels I’ve followed in his footsteps in marrying the right person. I wanted his opinion and advice, as someone who managed to attain the goal of marrying the woman of his dreams and the love of his life.
My grandfather’s tremendous ability to love was something he shared through his generosity. He was generous in his time, his treasure, and his care. In high school he’d always ask if I had enough gas. If he was in the car, he’d pump it himself insisting I stay in the car because I was a lady. He’d sometimes pull me aside before a trip or heading back to school and slip me a far too generous gift. He always offered to take me out to lunch, and he loved to have me stay over at their house. If I fell asleep on the couch, he’d find a blanket to make sure I was warm enough and I’d wake up tucked in. We used to joke around with him about how he had the softest hands in the world (which he did, way softer than mine) because he never had to cook or clean with them nor did he ever really have to do any manual labor. But he did take care of all of us through his presence and in all the little ways he knew best, right down to Snowy my dog who he walked religiously every time he was at our house. I just love him so much. I’m an only child, their only grandchild on this continent, and have a tiny immediate family beyond that. My grandfather has been a huge part of my life and there are some things that will never be the same because he isn’t here. This was unexpected to me, and a shock. I think since my great grandmother lived until 107 we all assumed he’d be around for much longer. But I know it happened this way for a reason.
This summer I was driving him to the beach and I told him he had to stick around to see me get married. He wasn’t enthusiastic about responding yes but eventually he said, “We’ll see.” I think perhaps he just didn’t have the heart to tell me that he’d definitely be there, just maybe not the way I expected. Grandpa viverá para sempre no meu coracão. (Grandpa, you will always live in my heart.)