Not Expecting the Unexpected

February 14, 2014
Paul Armand, my grandpa, is from Canada. He spoke French with his parents and grandparents as a boy yet you would never know that today because he doesn't have an accent. He does have a few quirky things that he does that may or may not be quintessentially Canadian. Every night before bed he has a glass of chocolate milk and a peanut butter sandwich. He's essentially traveled the world. He played softball, slow pitch guy's softball, for twenty three years for the Chicopee fire department. He doesn't like long sleeved shirts and he either rolls the sleeves up or wears short sleeved shirts. He was on the game show Concentration in the 70's where he won a wrist watch. He still has it. There is not one thing in particular that defines my grandpa because everything he's done is still a part of him.

Grandpa was born to George and Eva on October 12, 1945. His family was lower class, but he went to Catholic school for both grammar school and high school. Religion played a big role in his family. I think he had aunts that were nuns or at least played a role in the Catholic Church. Grandpa also did other religious things in his childhood. He was an altar boy at his church from age 10 to age 18 when he graduated high school. In his teenaged years he worked at the church in the summer, performing tasks like cutting grass, painting fences, and digging graves. In 1966 he started being an usher for St. Stanislaus Basilica in Chicopee and has been doing that for forty seven years. He's only missed Sunday mass a few times in his life, one of those being my fault.

In 1959 my grandpa started working at Pat's supermarket. In 1962 he learned how to cut meat for Pat's. Thirty three years later he bought his own butcher shop. He joined the National Guard when he was eighteen years old. He accomplished a lot.

My grandpa's greatest accomplishment was becoming a full time firefighter for the city of Chicopee, Massachusetts. He did this by the time he was twenty seven. He worked as an EMT on the fire department ambulance for five and a half years, served as union vice president for three years, and union secretary for seventeen years. His most memorable time at the fire station, although my grandma told me this, not my grandpa, was getting one particular call at the station. They went to the call and it turned out that a father had run over his infant with a car. Obviously they couldn't save the baby. This shook my grandpa up a lot. By this time in his life he had three sons of his own. My grandma told me he had to go to therapy for a while after to forget this. You would think that after seeing something so horrid that my grandpa would have stopped being a firefighter. It didn't. I think he liked knowing that he was saving some people's lives. He couldn't save everyone, but he sure tried hard.

Because my grandpa saw so many things while at the fire station he should have seen it coming. What happened to him this October. My family was visiting my grandma and him one weekend at the beginning of the month. We always go to their church when we visit them on Sundays, and because he's and usher at the church, he has to be there early. When we got to my grandparent's house he wasn't there. "Grandpa's not feeling well." The words flowed from my grandma's lips easier than expected. She wasn't going to church that day because she was cooking dinner, so we left for church without her. When we got to the church we met my grandpa in the back. He jokingly mumbled something to my dad along the lines of "I think I had a heart attack last night."
Somehow three days later he went to the med center and they put him in the hospital. Somehow he had a heart attack. Somehow he survived. I couldn't figure out how he had a heart attack on Saturday night but that I talked to him on Sunday and he was still alive.
When my dad visited grandpa in the hospital, he told grandpa that out of my brother, my sister, and me, I took his heart attack the hardest. Maybe it's because I was the only one to realize that grandpa could have died. I'll never know the answer, but after grandpa got out of the hospital he called my mom. Then she handed me the phone. For once in my life I literally had no idea what to say to grandpa. He started the conversation first. "This wasn't meant to scare anyone. I just didn't think it could happen to me." His voice cracked then. "I love you."
"I love you too grandpa." Then I started to cry too.
"You'd better…hand the phone back to your mom."
This was the first time in my life I had heard grandpa cry.
Through the whole fiasco, what my grandpa taught me was that you can never be too sure of what's happening or what can happen. Not that you have to expect the worst to happen, but that you also can't rule out the impossible.
Maybe because it was a different generation and that was expected of you, or maybe he just liked to be busy and learn many different things, but before he was thirty my grandpa accomplished many things. He became the communications chief of the National Guard. He started being an usher at his church. He married my grandmother Cynthia Stec. He bought his first house and had three children. He became a full time firefighter. It seems to me that my grandpa lived most of his life before he was thirty. Now, he is just who he is. This poem describes my grandpa from a photo that he gave to me specifically for this essay. It's of when he became the vice president for the fire station.

Same but Different

Distinguished. It's not a regular photo, maybe from a ceremony sheet
cut from all the extraneous words,
a picture of my grandpa in his forties smiles back at me.

It's black and white, not color. My grandpa is wearing a suit.
He has a tie on and jacket. A shiny badge adorns
both his coat lapel and his cap.

This was when he had a lot of hair. This was when
he still has a moustache. His dark eyes stare at the camera.
He's ready to serve you. To save you.

A caption below the picture summarizes everything. Summarizes him.
"Paul M. Vice president."
He looks so brave, but this was a long time ago.

He doesn't look like the person I know now,
But his eyes still have the same presence.

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