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A Grandson's first memories of his Papa

Posted by Joseph Omansky on 24th May 2023

My very first memory of my Papa Morry, aka Smoky Joe, was waking up to his gentle touch and whisper in his apartment in Chicago, only a few years before he and my Gramma Shirley decided to move from Chicago to central Florida to be closer to my two older brothers and I, three of his grandsons, his pride and joy. “Joey, are you still asleep?” I was only about four or five years old, and I was visiting him and my Gramma Shirley, with my parents and two older brothers. It was cozy in the bed, warm inside and chilly and cold outside. I wasn’t used to the cold of Chicago, because my parents had moved to Central Florida when my mom, Papa’s oldest daughter, Jan, moved there with my dad. Now, groggy, and slowly getting up, I was just four or five years old, and in a strange place, his apartment where he lived with my Gramma. Papa was super excited that we were visiting him and wanted my brothers and I to get up at his early hour, well before the break of dawn to share in his elaborate breakfast at the kitchen table that he would prepare for himself on a regular basis to eat alone while working to solve the Chicago Tribune crossword puzzle. But, on this morning, he wasn’t alone; we were visiting and there was no way he would eat by himself while his boys were there. So, he woke us up to join him. He took my small hand into his large leathery one and walked me to the kitchen where Mike and Steve, my brothers, were already partaking in his smorgasbord of delicacies waiting in the kitchen. Cereal, milk, plenty of fruits, cut watermelon, cantaloupe, berries, grapefruits cut in halves, toast, and any other fruits that were available in the apartment. He loved waking very early, sometimes at 4am, to have ample time to prepare huge meals for himself, or any of his family who happened to be in the apartment. He typically would do this alone, or if my Gramma happened to be awake also, she would join him in her cotton nightgown that she often would wear all day while staying in the apartment, cooking, cleaning, watching tv, and being the silly gramma, she was known to be. Gramma’s antics were legendary and continued to be throughout her lifetime, but that’s another story. We ate in our pj's, and if so inclined, changed into some regular clothes, or if we wanted, stayed in our pj's. After breakfast, the four of us boys all walked down the chilly stairwell on our way to the two-car garage of the apartment building. Opening the door, I still remember the smell and feel of the air: cold, damp, and rubbery are the closest adjectives I can find to describe the feel and smell. I remember the smell as one so foreign to my young and fragile nostrils. My mom and dad were not around this morning, and we didn’t care. We were now with our Papa and felt the warmth and love of his presence. We felt an adventure awaiting us.

As Steve, Mike, and I opened the door to the garage, we saw his dark blue Lincoln Continental Town Car, stretched long and stylish, larger than life, as if mirroring his own personality and presence. We climbed inside and the pungent smell of the garage now turned to the equally, yet different pungent smell of the interior of his Lincoln. A combination of leather from the seats of the car and tobacco from his pipes and tobacco foil container. He smoked cigars as well as pipes, but I believe pipes were his favorite and any cigar smells were overtaken by the strong smells of the pipe tobacco. The seats were soft and comfortable, the bells and whistles inside the car abundant and the most luxurious available that money could buy. Papa loved his family, and he also loved to live well. Automatic seats, able to recline in seemingly an unlimited number of directions; up, down left, right and diagonal. Windows with similar buttons that would automatically make the windows go up and down, like magic. This was new and cool to us boys who were used to the manual roll ‘em up kind. He seemed to have all the latest gadgets money could buy, including some of the first remote control tv sets with four oval buttons that we needed to push down with two of our small fingers to change the volume, channel, and mute. But now we were in his tank, his Lincoln, pressing buttons, moving the headrests up and down, laughing and sharing with each other the cool things that Papa’s car could do! Papa laughed out loud too and was smiling ear to ear as we all had such fun playing. He couldn’t be happier to have us with him. And with us in the car, up and down and up and down and down and up they went, over and over again, as we played with this magical toy that our Papa enjoyed as much as us. As he opened his door to enter the driver’s seat, he reached to the middle of the front console to grab one of the two or three pipes sitting in the large car ash tray. His door stayed open, as we heard a loud “bang! Bang! Bang!” My brothers and I were startled! Was that a gunshot?! No, it was just our Papa banging his pipe against the door railing that runs alongside the bottom side of the Lincoln. Why was our papa doing this? It was new and neat, but our papa did it, so it must have been cool. This is how he emptied his pipes before getting ready to pack it up with his favorite tobacco. This ritual was not unlike his breakfast routine, and seemed to occur the same way each time he entered his car getting ready for his journey in the morning to the golf course, every morning, if there wasn’t too much snow on the ground to prevent him from playing golf. Before he departed, he grabbed his zippo lighter and with a puff, puff, puff, smoke billowed out as he peered through his corn-rimmed glasses to see if the ember of the pipe was just as he wanted it. And, off we went, or as his wife, Shirley, our Gramma would be known to say, we were “off like a dirty shirt!”