How do you talk about a person who you have never met?
It’s hard because you’re basically either guessing or just taking what others tell you. The strangest part though, is that person is very significant in your life and at the same time, they had nothing to do with it. For me this is the case with Alfred Cannova, or as he’s known to me; my grandfather.
He died in 1981, 14 years before I was born and so he had just always been someone I knew through pictures and stories, and yet, I always felt close to him in a weird way.
· I am his daughter’s son
· His wife was my nana
· All of his children were there with me when I grew up
· I practically lived in his house as a child
· My mom said we look alike and I have his personality
…yet with all of this, he’s still a stranger.
I know that a kid growing up not knowing at least one grandparent isn’t unusual, so I’m not going to act like I’ve been cheated, but I still feel like there is a missing part of my life.
So many questions have gone through my mind about him.
· What he liked?
· How he talked?
· How tall he was?
· What his habits were?
· What kind of husband he was?
· What kind of father he was?
· What kind of grandfather he would have been?
I mean, regarding the relationship I have with his daughters and the relationship I had with his wife, it’s obvious that had he lived, I would have been close to him. So, that brings me back to my question: who was he?
I’ve asked my mom and her sisters about him over the years and when I was a kid all they would say was, “he was a great man.” As I got older though, they told me all of the things that I wanted to know.
He was born on November 4, 1928. The fourth of five children, his parents were Italian immigrants fresh off the boat from Sicily.
As a kid, he had Rheumatic fever which, according to his brother and sisters, weakened his heart. His family was also poor, in fact, they were so poor that when he was young he often had to beg for food.
He met my grandma, Mildred, in the 1940’s and the two married on October 14th, 1950. They had three daughters, my aunt Barbara, my mom Linda and my other aunt Susan. They lived in Wantagh, NY, at 3170 N. Jerusalem Rd.
He owned his own business called Manor Electronics in Queens, NY, which was a shop that fixed radios, televisions, etc. All of the customers and people in the neighborhood loved him. Every afternoon he would put on the TV’s for the kids of the neighborhood and they would line up and watch. He brought my mom and her sisters to work and would even take them to his customers houses for dinner.
According to my mom, he was someone who always had to be working. He was always fixing things or moving somehow. My dad said the whole time he knew him, he never sat still.
One of the most important things to him was education. He couldn’t afford college and had dropped out of High School, so he made it a point to make sure his daughters went to college, which they all did.
Barbara became a lawyer, my mom became a teacher and Susan became a nurse.
Despite all the great things they told me about him, he was far from perfect.
My mom’s family didn’t have a lot of money and so that would cause a lot of stress and tension in their family and apparently he could have a really short fuse sometimes.
Although I know he loved fixing things and having his own business, based on what has been told to me, he was a smart man and could have had more opportunities with the right education, which is something I think always bothered him.
Throughout his life, he had several heart attacks. He suffered a heart attack in 1961 which although he survived, caused some irreversible damage to his heart. He had another heart attack in 1978 that was almost fatal. He survived the attack and a year later they had a party for him which they called “his first birthday.”
This is a picture of my grandparents on that day.
His health slowly deteriorated after that attack though and he had trouble breathing and walking many distances. Sue told me that when he walked her across campus looking at colleges, he constantly had to stop to catch his breath.
He later gave up his business and got a job at Wantagh High School, you guessed it, fixing the electronics.
On August 8, 1981, he suffered a massive heart attack. He was lying in bed with my nana, who awoke my mom and aunts to tell them what was happening. I don’t know the whole story of what happened and I don’t think I ever will. (It’s not exactly something I think anyone is keen on talking about). He died that day at 52 years old.
As I said, there were 14 years between him and I and in that time so many things happened in our family both good and bad.
· My parent’s marriage.
· The birth of my sister Kris.
· The death of his mother.
· Sue’s MS diagnosis.
My paternal grandparents, Frank & Tilia, were great people and I loved them, but when I was kid I didn’t see them much. I had a closer relationship with them later in my life, until their deaths in 2012 and 2014, respectively.
My maternal grandmother, Mildred, was practically a second mother to me. She picked me up from school, let me sleep over her house, took me to work with her, etc. Which brings me back to my grandfather, since he wasn’t there. I can’t help but wonder what life would have been like if he was.
I never spoke with my nana about him since she died in 2009 when I was only 14 and I wasn’t exactly having the most thought-provoking talks with her at that age, but I like to think that had she lived longer, she could have told me even more things about him. The good, the bad, the ups, the downs, all of it.
Alfred Cannova is and always will be a stranger to me. I never knew him and I never will. It’s strange to love and respect a person that you never met but like with all of us who die, we’re kept alive through those who tell our stories and continue our legacies.
I didn’t know him, but I knew enough to know he wasn’t just my mother’s father. He was my grandfather and I feel proud to be his grandson.