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Life stories: As proud as Pop

NANCY SUTTHOFF
Last updated 05:00 12/11/2012
Nancy and her Pop

A CHARMER: Nancy Sutthoff and her Pop.

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My father, like his father before him (Papoumou), loved people. He loved to help people, talk to people, make people laugh. Pop used to joke with mom that he missed his calling, and should have been a priest because everyone seems to see a clerical collar on him anyway.

She usually replied it was a good thing he was Greek Orthodox, otherwise their marriage would have been a sham, blasphemous, and the children little bastards. I can still see the two of them in the kitchen, at the table, having a good laugh at that one.

Pop had this immense curiosity about everything around him. Always had his nose in a book, either to read or write. Out in public, he could embarrass the hell out of you with his pride in your accomplishments.

"This is my daughter, she's brilliant" or "My daughter here, she just got accepted into NYSSMA (or SCMEA) for her singing, you should hear her sing!"; "yeah, my girl, she's a free spirit that one, aren't ya kid? Fearless I tell you, fearless."

Regardless of the praise, I just wanted the pavement to swallow me when he would do that. I'd smile in an embarrassed way and try to slowly back away from whomever it was he was talking to. Mortifying really, at the time. Now I look back and smile, because that was his way of just building me up.

Sedate was not in his vocabulary. He may have been less flamboyant then your average Leo, but he was a Leo, all the way.

Yep, Pop was the unofficial mayor of Lake Ronkonkoma, New York - he knew EVERYONE and EVERYONE knew him. Wherever he went, he was treated like the Big Cheese. Gregarious, regal, proud, warm and caring.
There was a dichotomy there too. Some would probably say he had a split personality. But here's the thing, that split wasn't two different people - it was his private persona and his public persona. We all do it, of course. It's just that the difference between the two was more extreme than most.

Pop was a quiet man in his own domain. Thinking, zoning out, processing. He loved his family, his roses, his food, his books. He used to drive Mom batshit when she would be talking to him and all of the sudden she would realise he wasn't "there", but somewhere else, in his own personal "lala land". I know I shouldn't but remembering that makes me snicker (if only because I do the same exact thing now).

My brother Nick and I used to joke, sort of, after Mom had died, that Pop was emotionally constipated. He wasn't really, looking back on it.

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He just kept his own counsel, and had a very interesting way of putting things under the rug. It was like he had his own personal minefield, but you know where the mines are, so you gingerly step over them to avoid setting them off.

It was interesting to find out at his wake that Pop used to talk about Mom all the time. Fifteen years after she died, and even though he had a new partner.

Anyway, Barbara, one of his co workers, came up to me and told me that, and how missed my mother was by everyone who knew or worked with her. My heart flew upwards. I asked her to come meet Nick, and tell him the same thing. I watched his face, and saw the same feeling pass through him that had just gone through me. Relief, justification, acknowledgement.

So now, when I think of the old man, I see him in his element, lending an ear to someone who needed advice; showing someone how to do something - patiently and cheering their mastery; gently helping one of the kids on or off his bus; pen in hand, nose in book; zoning out.

Adjust the exposure, the focus and the frame changes again - I see him in one of the few times he got royally pissed off. Bull in a china closet anyone? God knows it took a lot for him to get pissed off, but when he did, look out. Thankfully it took a whole helluva lot to get him there so it didn't happen often.

Lastly, with one final adjustment to the exposure, again the frame changes and I see him tired, and peaceful and sleeping with a crooked smile on his face that stayed there until he took his last breath.

I now realise many things. Now he has been released from the pain he held inside for so long. Released so he can truly speak to me, just as Mom has for all these years. I can finally see his words in my writing, and as I hear my mother's voice in my own, the inflections are his; I see his expressions in my face - the intensity in my eyes are his; my mother spoke with her hands, like I do, but the hands are my fathers, albeit on a smaller, feminine scale.

Pop was just a man. Imperfect but pure of heart; impulsive but loyal; intense but reflective; brilliant but awkward; fearless but worried; strong but unsure.

The more I think about him, the more of him I see in myself, the good, bad and the ugly. He is a strange familiar more than a familiar stranger. He is at peace, finally. (I really hope that Mom wasn't too hard on him when they met up again... egads!)


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