Grandfather I Hardly Knew
Fear Elders Not
About the Documentarian
Learning About Life from Grandfather
by Laura Giuffrida
GROWING UP IN VIRGINIA, I NEVER REALLY KNEW MY GRANDFATHER who lived in New York. By the time he moved in with my parents in Richmond, Va., I was already preoccupied with college and rarely spent time with him at home. Suffering from extreme anxiety, his hands shake and he often struggles to speak after restless nights of little sleep.
If there are two things he’s loved in his life, they are his cars and his late wife. Although he cherishes time spent with his daughter (my mother) and his beautiful, if not slightly overfed Sheltie, his love of cars runs deep, and the tenderness with which he speaks about my grandmother is profound.
As a child growing up in Maspeth, Queens, N.Y., he was quite the rascal. Pulling cans from the bottom of pyramids in grocery stores, stealing potatoes to cook over a fire in the lot behind his house, and sledding down cobblestone roads in the middle of summer, his life was never dull. He looks back on it all with a strikingly good memory, carrying an affinity for names and faces throughout his eighty-six years.
After watching his brother’s experience in the army, fighting in North Africa and returning with the demeanor of a man who had seen two lifetimes worth of troubles, Charlie decided to enlist in the Navy. His birthday was called out two months later, and if he had not enlisted, he would have been forced to join combat in the Army and I might not be here today.
By far his favorite story to tell is about how he met my grandmother, Theresa Harth. When a mutual friend introduced them, a movie-like love story ensued and he knew this was the woman he was going to marry. Over time, he managed to win her heart despite the fact that she was dating other men. He claims his father’s nice car is the sole reason, but his humbleness doesn’t fool me. In the photos I managed to collect from his youth, it is evident that he loved her dearly, and showed it every chance he could.
His stories are endless, and given the chance to speak them out loud, the names of things, people, and places once loved come pouring out of his wrinkled mouth. The relationship between my grandfather and me has grown tremendously over the past two months. The silent man I would visit on annual trips to New York has now become a teacher. What has he taught me? To cherish life for all it has to offer (both good and bad), and to never let small issues bring my life to a standstill because in the end, the only memories worth keeping are those that stem from good conversation and spontaneous experiences. ◊
LAURA GIUFFRIDA is a graduating senior at Christopher Newport University. She is an English major with minors in Leadership Studies and Anthropology. Traveling and meeting new people are two of her biggest passions, and she hopes to continue both upon graduating.
“The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”—Chris McCandless
"A Young Guy from Queens"
Story & SoundSlides by Laura Giuffrida
Every morning at seven o’clock sharp, Charlie Weiss clambers hurriedly down the stairs of his daughter’s house, trying his best to stay quiet. He nudges his ten year-old Shetland sheepdog outside as the first rays of sunlight begin to peak through the kitchen windows. He sits down at the kitchen table to begin his daily arm and leg exercises before moving outside to enjoy the fresh air with his dog. Charlie moved from Long Island into his daughter and son-in-law’s Virginia home three years ago. “This is my last stop,” he says, sitting outside in an old winter coat, staring out at the road and scratching his chubby Sheltie absentmindedly behind the ears.
SoundSlide interviews with Charlie
"We Were Mischievous " (1:24)
"The Depression Era" (1:37)
"I Knew What I Had" (3:04)
"We Went Everywhere in that Car" (1:09)