My Special Day With Papu
Posted: October 30, 2015
Originally printed on Oct. 3, 2008
I last visited my grandfather (Papu) on my mother's side (the Greek side of the family) in 1996. It was the year that Michael Jordan decided to try his skills at professional baseball. The day I visited Papu in Sarasota, FL, we went to the spring training game that was packed with fans who wanted to see the world's best basketball player attempt to compete at the pro baseball level.
When we arrived at the stadium, my grandfather thought he would be a welcome addition to the Masonic Shriners' workforce to staff the concession stands and would be able to get into the game for free. But, Papu was not familiar with any of the Shriners who were working at the food stands that day. As a result, I snuck my grandfather into the ball park and found a seat near me along the right field foul pole where Michael Jordan was positioned. Unfortunately, my grandfather's seat was occupied by a paying customer by the third inning. Fortunately, the elderly gentleman who served as an usher for the game was intrigued by Papu's history as a restauranteur in downtown Chicago dating back to the 1950s. The usher and Papu spent the next three innings talking about the 1950s nightlife in downtown Chicago.
As the game progressed, I expressed to the stadium usher my appreciation for how he took care of my grandfather as fans filled the seats at the game, even though Papu never had a ticket to get into the event. The usher asked me my name and I told him who I was and what I did for a living. The usher said he knew my voice because he spent six months of the year living in Amery, WI, and listened to my weekday news reports on WEAQ radio while fishing with his grandson. Talk about a small world.
That same day, my Papu and I left the ball game and visiting the neighboring dog track to gamble. Even though Papu did not have the best hearing or eyesight at the time, he was able to recognize my excitement when we won $1,200 on a wager. Once we returned home to his trailer, I reserved a limousine to transport us to a fine dining establishment overlooking Tampa Bay. We enjoyed a wonderful seafood meal with a couple of bottles of wine.
After my return home, I was told that Papu had begun to lose his memory. The onset of dementia began to affect his ability to recognize familiar faces. Even though Papu passed away at the age of 100 some years ago, my visit to see him in Florida was precious. I know Papu probably didn't remember my trip in his later years, but I sure do.