Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Greatest Man I Ever Knew

When people say they don't make men like that anymore it is true. The one I knew was a sports fan, storyteller, gardening expert, fixer of the unfixable, and an adventurer in his own way rolled up into the form of a man that I called Pop. Pop was a simple man who came from a humble background. He worked from the time he was 16 helping his father in the grove care business here in Florida. He worked hard, rarely took a vacation but it didn't matter he loved his life. I met him long after he retired but loved hearing his stories of life in Florida when he was young.

One afternoon, he asked if he had ever told me about how he met Al Capone. I didn't know what to say. How could a man who rarely left Florida, have met Al Capone? He told me when he was in college, he and a friend hitchhiked back home because they didn't have train fare. The were a few miles from home when a big car pulled over to give them a ride. They readily climbed in only to discover the sole passenger in the back was none other than Al Capone.

I should say, Pop recognized Al Capone but his friend didn't. He found the man was from Chicago and proceeded to ask him if he knew Al Capone. When the man said very well, the young man told him he didn't think Al was that tough. Pop said he kept hitting his friend in the leg to get him to shut up. He finally was able to tell his friend who the man really was when the car pulled into a parking lot of a diner. They went into the diner, leaving Pop and his friend in the car. He finally told his friend that the man he said Al isn't so tough too was the real Al Capone. Pop said his friend turned and almost fainted. They were finally dropped off and ran the rest of the way home. When he told his parents who gave him a ride home, his parents were livid. From that day on they made sure Pop had train fare to come home.

Like most Americans of his generation, when the country called to go to war; they went. He thought he would go to Europe or Asia but instead was placed on an island in Alaska.
There were events he wouldn't go into detail about because they were horrific and I never pushed. He would get quite and then return back to his normal self a few minutes. He did tell me about how his unit captured some Japanese and the first thing they had to do was burn their lice infested uniforms. During down time, they did the usual things like making their version of moonshine called torpedo juice. He said it was very lethal to drink but there wasn't anything else. The food wasn't that great and it was where he learned to hate carrots and peas because that was the only vegetable they sent them.

Besides his family, his greatest pride and joy were his camellia bushes. He even had one, that his parents' planted when he was born in 1919. When visitors would come over they would be asked to take a tour of his garden. With pride, he would point out ever bush and tell them when the camellia was planted and the name of it. He had a memory for plant names and how to care for them. Plants were his passion but not the only one.

His other passion was baseball, the Cubs to be exact. I love the team too so we would sit and watch Harry Carey announce the games. The Cubs rarely won but that didn't matter. My best friend and I would sit with him watching the game and during commercials we all would talk. It was during a commercial that he told me to call him Pop. I have never been able to call a friends' parent by their first name and he said Mr was to formal. So Pop it was and Pop it would always be.

As with all things, time flies by and we get older. In 1998 my best friend lost her mom to cancer & brain tumors. The light sort of went out on him because Maggie was the love of his life. For people who think love does not continue with age are so wrong. I loved watching them walk together holding hands. They had hospice come in to help but he was her main caregiver and never complained about it. After she died, he started to look older. He was tall but now walked a bit stooped over.

I don't remember the year, but he started having trouble breathing. He used an inhaler but still continued working in his garden and yard. His doctor finally had to put him on oxygen because the inhalers no longer worked. He had emphysema. Yet, he still went outside and did as much work as he could. What he couldn't do his daughters and I would help. We were all worried about him but the worst was yet to come.

When he went outside he tripped and fell and broke his hip. While in the hospital recovering from that, they discovered not only did he have emphysema but he had advanced lung cancer. He had quit smoking 10 years earlier but it was too late. He had smoked since he was 16 and now it took its toll. After running tests they discovered his cancer wasn't treatable. He came home and tried to keep his garden and yard up but it got harder and harder. During this whole time he never complained, never did why me God. He just went about his life. He came from the generation of people who lived during the depression and just accepted things without complaint. I would go over to see him as often as possible. He got weaker and weaker but he still retained his sense of humor. It broke my heart to see this man who was so strong and now had lost so much weight he was shadow of his former self.

Eventually, he was placed in a home that cared for terminal patients run by hospice. They loved him and took great care of him. His family and I were with him everyday. We were told not to cry and just hold it in until we left. The last time I talked to him was when he called me at my job. My best friend was with him and said he wanted to talk to me. His voice was very weak but I could hear him. He told me that he never thought of me as just his daughters' best friend but as one of his own daughters. As someone who had a horrible father this was the best gift I could have ever been given. I held it together until I hung up the phone and then I lost it.

July,3, 2005 is a date I will always remember. That is the day this wonderful man left this world for the next. I knew he was in heaven with his beloved wife and God would take care of these two wonderful people, but it didn't make it hurt any less. I thank God everyday that this man came into my life so I could see what it was like to have a good Dad instead of the one I had. I would give everything to be able to sit with him and watch a Cubs game again. He would give his last dollar if you asked for it without knowing why or when you would pay him back. He was the greatest man I ever knew.


Tormented Soul said...

Beautiful Mariannne,

A gift to you...a new home for your lovely, inspiring words. May this inspire you to write more and share your gift with all of us...
Hold your dreams close,

Tormented Soul

Anonymous said...

This story reminds me of my own father. Thank you for writing it. Your precious "pop" would be so proud. Thank you for helping me remember my own special moments with my hero, my dad. I'll look forward to more posts by you.

Anonymous said...


I loved this story! You are such a great writer and I know that it is what you love to do! It shines through with every word! Hugs!

Debra MomsofAmerica

Henie said...


What a touching and uplifting story!

You are a very special soul deserving such an honor to have had a *Pop* in your life!

No doubt, from above, he beams over you with the pride of a father for his daughter!

Your site is absolutely stunning and a serene haven for many many more visits to come! CONGRATULATIONS, love!

One of my favorites...Glenn Miller's Moonlight Serenade...thank you!

Anonymous said...

Marianne,I love your Blog and it as well written and beautiful as you. Keep writing, Lots of Love
Mary Kay

Lydia Proschinger said...


You're a talented writer and have a wonderful gift of sending nostalgic shivers down my spine, the music helped.

I always make sure my kids have enough money to take transport :-)

Yuko C. Murray said...


You tell a beautiful story. I feel as if I knew you and Pop when you were growing up. I can almost see him, smiling with deep wrinkles on his weathered face under the strong Florida sun.

Thank you for sharing this wonderful piece of your life.

PS I love Glen Miller, and your style.

RoyM77 said...

You reached me with this and now I have tears in my eyes. You write beautifully. You should be greatly encouraged to pursue writing as a profession.

Anonymous said...

Marianne, what a beautiful post~! I'm sure Pop is reading it and smiling... though the rest of us are in tears!

I used to live up the street from Capone's Island on the Intracoastal in Deerfield Beach. We used to take little boats over to search for buried treasure. I believe they turned it into a park. Hope Pop frequents it and finds the treasure!

Congratulations on your wonderful blog!
Anita @ModelSupplies

Anonymous said...

Oh Marianne,

How beautiful and touching. Your feelings for Pop is an absolute tribute to the kind of man he was and the wonderful life he lived.

I have no doubt you were, and still are to his soul, a beautiful blessing. May the memory of him help you move the most challenging of times.

Big hugs
Vicki Wolfson

Tom Minter said...

Hi Marianne,

What a wonderful story, beautifully told, about a great man, written by a very special woman. I'm sitting here with tears rolling down my cheeks!

Your words of Pop have inspired me today. He certainly has many qualities to which I aspire, and within that sentence lies one of Pop's many gifts: The presence, charm, wisdom, and charisma to inspire people he has never met, years after he has moved on... for his beautiful qualities and special gifts are indeed timeless and know no bounds. A part of Pop will always live on in you. :)

Have a beautiful day, Marianne...

Socks for Happy People

Blanquis said...

I am a mess over here! loved it!

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