There are four lists on my desk – lists of things I hope to accomplish. They are labeled 3 months, 1 year, 5 years and 10 years. At the beginning of 2012 I wrote on the 1 year list that I would like to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Growing up I heard endless stories about Brooklyn and about the Bridge. Papa, my Mom's father, grew up in Brooklyn and raised his own family there until my Mom was around 6 years old. Then they moved out of the city and into their summer bungalow in Landing, NJ – on the shores of Lake Hopatcong. Papa worked hard – commuting in and out of the city every day. He retired right around the time I was born.
My childhood memories of Papa include many afternoons spent listening to him reminisce about the War, about Brooklyn and his many welding jobs - especially his job maintaining the Brooklyn Bridge. He was an iron worker – something he was incredibly proud of. He even renewed his welding license years after he retired. He still had one the year he died.
The Brooklyn Bridge was a topic that would come up quite regularly. Every day even. Around the time I graduated from college I started asking him to take a ride with me into the City. We could walk across the bridge and we could drive by all the places he talked about. He never wanted to go – and I never pushed him to. I wish I did.
His shot on the left – mine on the right.
Fast forward to this year and my list. A month or so after I wrote that goal down we chose the winners to our Love First contest – Jessica & Peter. When it came time to plan their engagement shoot we decided on NYC and I had them list a few spots that they'd like to go to. One of them was the Brooklyn Bridge! So, off we went. As we began to walk on the bridge I looked up at the American flag at the top. I immediately became overwhelmed and a little teary eyed to be honest. America is a wonderful place, but the reason I felt this rush of emotion was remembering photographs I had seen of my Papa at the very top – holding on to the flag. He would walk up the pipes all the way to the top!! He was a man without a fear of heights.
To me, my Papa wasn't exactly the man in these photographs. My Papa was the man who picked me up from nursery school with a prepared snack – juice and a bologna and butter sandwich. He was the man who took me fishing and ice skating at the pond – the one that was waaaay into the woods where no one really went – my private rink. He was the man who made me breakfast and gave me a cup of coffee when I was five years old, who made me believe that money actually "grew" in his dresser drawer, and who woke me up with a turkey call. He was the man who made me feel safe and loved in his own specific way. He was strange and absolutely wonderful.
In college I decided to do a multimedia art project about Papa. My project was based on the idea that he was an artist, without completely setting out to be one. With his welding skills he created sculptures – some of them are beautiful, some are quirky. I then went on to say that he created installations in his home and on his property. One of them being a bike which he perfectly placed in the middle of his garden – allowing plants to grown all around. Another being his collection of lottery tickets which were placed around the house with an artistic flair.
One of the pieces he made, which currently hangs above our door.
This video is from that project. It is actually my third attempt at interviewing him. He wasn't very cooperative the first two times, but after my Mom gave him a talking to he finally gave in (for the most part). You can hear me (sounding very young) trying to steer the conversation back toward my project without much success. There are a few gems that pop up throughout the video – including some foul language, the health benefits of beer, and running from the law – that were off-topic for my project, but I think they'll give you a good idea of who he was.