photo by my talented cousin jeff portaro
he was 91 when he passed away thursday morning, warm in his bed holding the hands of his daughters (one being my sweet mama), his family all around him. i was lucky enough to know him for 25 of those years. to sit beside him at the kitchen table three times a week and yell out jeopardy answers and wheel of fortune letters. to meet him and mama for lunch at chick-fil-a, wendy's and a slew of other little fast food haunts he loved. he had a smile that, when he flashed it, took away any little worries or stresses i had hanging over me, and warmed me. actually, it was more of a grin than a smile, a genuine happiness.
he wore a cardigan with elbow patches before they were cool, and for years he proudly sported a tan baseball cap that read "NANNO" in big letters, one i had custom made for him at those little kiosks in the mall. he loved big band music, especially artie shaw's begin the beguine. "put that one on repeat!" he'd tell mama. he also loved italian loaf bread, root beer, and jell-o.
he was eternally grateful; "thank you" was his favorite phrase. he loved to fire up his old desktop computer and use his outdated software to make custom greeting cards for every birthday and holiday, the same message always in each: "i wish you at least a hundred more filled with health and happiness."
i could go on. i could tell you about how he talked to my grandma's side of the bed in the evenings, when he thought no one could hear, or about how he loved crosswords and novels all of his life and was the sharpest man i knew. how he served in the navy and lived in sicily as a child.
on wednesday, he asked if my sister and i had to go back to college soon. we told him we still had a few months, and that we would spend them with him. "oh, that's going to be so great!" he exclaimed, "'i'll try to get my strength back up."
now, a tremendous void is left, filled only with the beautiful glimpse of Heaven he gave us these last few days. he saw boys in white suits and called out my sweet grandma's name. he reached out his hand and said "i'm reaching beyond. i'm reaching through it." i have never felt anything more sacred in my life. there were angels all over the place in that tiny bedroom, inside the house he raised his children in, and the bed he shared with his sweet wife.
he looked at all of us and said, "i've got my treasure here with me." he was ours, and losing him is nothing short of a deep, sad blow. but he left such a sweet legacy. one of humility, grace, kindness and purity. one i will forever measure myself against.
he was truly one of a kind, an irreplaceable original. a few days before he passed away, my cousin held his hand and told him, "they just don't make men like you anymore, Nanno."
"nope," he grinned,
"they threw the pattern away."