The other day the kids and I all traveled to Vineland, New Jersey (the largest city in the state measured by total area – 69 square miles, home to the largest farmer’s cooperative on the east coast – the Vineland Produce Auction, and the birth place of Welch’s Grape Juice) to visit my maternal grandfather, Henry, who now lives in the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home there.
I have always called him “Pop Pop,” but my kids call him “Pop Pop Pop” or “3 Pops,” so as to differentiate between him (my only living grandparent) and my dad, who they call “Pop Pop.” I don’t know why no one was able to come up with more unique nicknames in our family, but that’s what they are called so we just deal with it. Although there was an attempt one time by Kid C to rename them, when she referred to my Pop Pop as “Pop Pop Fancy” (I guess from all of the Pop-ping) and my dad was (logically) “Pop Pop Plain.” But those never stuck.
So we drove a little less than an hour to see 3 Pops, who is doing well health-wise for an 80-plus year-old man, except that he has circulation issues with his legs. He is not a petite man by any stretch of the imagination – he was six feet, five inches tall at his tallest and I’d bet he was pushing three hundred pounds – so he can’t really walk on his own anymore. Instead he drives around in a pimped-out, mac daddy electric wheelchair.
When we first got there he gave us a tour of the place. No matter that we had been there several times before. He just wanted to show off his visitors, which apparently is how you brag in the Home. Imagine the sight of us in the halls… me and the five kids marching along with Pop Pop Fancy leading the parade in his Master of Ceremonies Hoveround. He was a superstar! We filed in and out of room after room, meeting friends and nurses and chatting them all up. We shook everyone’s hands and many of them asked for and got hugs too. I’m sure I got felt up a couple of times, but it was for the veterans so I wasn’t going to complain.
We took 3 Pops with us to a nice italian restaurant called Martino’s for some yummy lunch. He is a regular there, so all of the waitresses came over to say hello and ask how he liked his spicy mussels (apparently a standing order for him). Then we stopped at the store to pick up some fresh peaches, strawberries and navel oranges for him to keep in the fridge in his room. He sure does love him some fruit!
Back at the home we made another round of the halls to see if there was anybody who we might have missed on the first pass. This was when we met my favorite couple of the day, Ernie and Mary Webber. They had just recently celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary and they live in a room in the home together. Mary is a little sicker and requires more care than her husband, but she still knew that she had some visitors and she just lit up when she talked with us. I wondered to myself if they sometimes did it in their room. How sweet would that be? Ernie had an extensive hat collection that he insisted the kids all try on and he also had a beautiful vegetable and flower garden that he started in the courtyard that he showed us with immense pride.
It was clear that 3 Pops was ready for a nap, as it had been a busy and exciting day, and even his wheelchair was moving a little slower than usual. We all hugged him and said our goodbyes, and the girls promised to write more letters (another way to get bragging rights in the home). Kid E made me cry when he uncharacteristically climbed up into 3 Pop’s lap in the chair, grabbed both of his cheeks with his sweaty little hands, and gave him a giant smooch (you thought I was gonna say that he told him he wasn’t ugly, didn’t you?).
So we all piled into the car and headed back to the marina. It was an all around great day and a really nice visit. I was very proud of all of my kids that they did not even once stare, point, or ask embarrassing questions out loud when we were there. No one mentioned that it smelled weird. No one poked the people who were asleep in the hallways. They were respectful and kind and interacted with everybody it made me very happy.
As we pulled into the driveway at my mom and dad’s house, I yelled out to the kids, “Now everybody should go to the bathroom and everybody should definitely wash their hands.”
Then Kid D replied, “Yeah, because we sure touched a lot of old people today!”
Wish me luck for tomorrow…