My father-in-law passed away last week. Poppop, as his oldest grandchild Andrew named him more than 20 years ago, was a quiet guy, but that didn’t mean he was ever bored or boring. Poppop, a retired engineer, loved the beach, the water and the sunshine; on family vacations he was always the first one out the door, towel slung over his shoulder, headed to the beach. He’d stay outside so long he’d often end up looking like he just popped out of a lobster pot, but if we said anything, he’d laugh and tell us he was fine; “it doesn’t hurt.” Poppop passed his love of the beach, water and sunshine on to his kids and his grandchildren. His four kids, their spouses (including me) and the grandkids loved nothing better than vacations at the Jersey Shore and in St. Augustine, FL with Poppop. Samantha, Poppop’s youngest grandchild, is a competitive swimmer; like Poppop, Samantha is completely at home in the water.
Poppop was a voracious reader, of mostly mysteries; I remember his stacks of books on family vacations and on the coffee table near his favorite chair. He would read for hours. He passed that love of reading on to each of his four children. Michael, my husband, loves the same authors as his Dad. And our two children, Max and Tory, inhale books the way some people inhale potato chips. I’ve taken many photos over the years of the four Sneden siblings (and my in-laws) lined up in beach chairs, each lost in a novel.
Poppop was a kind man, a modest man. At his wake, the stories a former co-worker told us of Poppop as an engineer came as a surprise to many of us. You see, Poppop never talked about work when he was at home. We had no idea he was a brilliant engineer or a kind boss. Or that he was a boss, a well-regarded head of his division and a vice president in the company for which he worked for so many decades. We knew him as the guy who loved his Giants football team, who watched golf on TV like it was a religion. We knew him as the man who kept meticulous notes about every expenditure, every vacation — in notebooks, neatly labelled. His granddaughter Katie can tell Poppop-at-home stories; and she makes me laugh every time.
We knew Poppop as the man who did the New York Times crossword puzzle (in ink!) daily. I attending the 30th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament with him in 2007. He beat me (and many, many other people) handily every game, even though he’d never attended that kind of intense timed competition before. He loved it; the entire weekend he had a smile on his face and his pen at the ready. Heck, Poppop was great at many games of strategy and skill; he played bridge. Very well. He did Sudoku. Also very well.
I’d guess Poppop’s favorite meal was veal parmesan with a side of spaghetti and — back in the day — his favorite drink was beer, Coors Light mostly. Over the years he replaced the beer with Diet Coke, but his love of snowflake rolls and yellow cupcakes with chocolate icing never wavered.
The chair at the head of the table is empty now, but Poppop lives on in our hearts and memories. And if we have a hankering to “hear” Poppop’s voice all we have to do is turn to his grandson Patrick; he does a spot-on imitation of his beloved Poppop!