Rest in Peace, Victor Cristofanelli
It is with a heavy heart that I must say goodbye to a man who was my grandfather. Victor Cristofanelli passed away Saturday, July 28th 2012, roughly twelve hours after I had left his bedside earlier that day. It is hard to believe that just a short time ago, I was holding his hand and watching him sleep…and now he’s gone.
What kind of man was Victor Cristofanelli? Well, most of my memories of him are from my childhood. I remember, as a kid in grade school, visiting my grandparent’s apartment in Bellevue. “Pap” was always on the floor, laying on his side, watching whatever western or war movie that happened to be on television. The strong smell of cigarette smoke filled the room, but it was often replaced by the pizza he’d always order for us. I remember that blanket that he used to lay out for us…at least…I think I do. It was a blue blanket…probably one of the most comfortable blankets I ever remember laying on. He’d lay it out for my brother and I, and for my cousin if he were over, and we’d all sit together and eat pizza and play card games.
Pap was one hell of a card shark. He played Pinochle like no one’s business, winning more times than the laws of probability would feel comfortable with. I remember watching him play with his buddies at “The Table of Knowledge”…a table that resided at what used to be Pip’s Diner in Greentree. Every Saturday morning, during my mother’s custody time, she’d bring us to that diner and pap would buy us breakfast. I can still partially remember the aroma of the egg, ham, and cheese omelette that I used to always order…that is…when I didn’t order a grilled chicken sandwich (plain…of course). Afterwards, he’d take his buddies for a ride in the game of Pinochle and win back the money he used to pay for breakfast and then some.
Victor Cristofanelli suffered from polio, a disease that affected his leg and made it difficult for him to walk. From what I understand, he was born with it and lived his entire life with a leg that often refused to cooperate. The amazing part is…I don’t recall ever once hearing him complain about it. He took what life gave him, sucked it up, went into business for himself, and gave whatever he had to others whenever he could. He was truly an example of how a human being could act when they were at their best. He was incredibly smart, always advising me as a kid to open up savings accounts and IRAs…my first lesson on bonds came from him. He even took me on jobs with him, giving me the important job of carrying his tools because his polio and age were beginning to prevent him from doing it himself.
Not only did he affect my life in a positive way, but he also affected the lives of others. He knew EVERYBODY. There’s a running joke that every six degrees of separation leads back to Kevin Bacon…but my grandfather didn’t know the meaning of the words, “degree of separation.” He just simply knew everybody. Most of the people he knew were from his business, but he came to be a loved and well-respected man by anyone who knew his name.
He loved his John Wayne movies. It was a rare event to glance at the television and not see John Wayne shoving someone’s face into a horse trough. During those rare times, it would be a silent movie like Charlie Chaplin…though we did get him addicted to the first Home Alone movie. The only part he liked was at the end when the two crooks were getting electrocuted, smashed, hung, crushed…his laugh would carry on throughout the entire apartment. Those were some good memories.
As someone who doesn’t believe in a higher power…I am not exactly sure where he might be now. Perhaps his “soul” is somewhere better…or perhaps his life energy is floating about, evolving into some higher plane of existence that we aren’t aware of yet. I honestly don’t know. I just hope that wherever he is, that he is happy. He was a good man, and deserves at least that much.
I’ll miss his laugh…I’ll miss his advice…I’ll miss the way he scribbled his directions…I’ll miss that blanket…I’ll miss the pizza…I’ll miss those rides in his Mustang Convertible…but most importantly, I’ll miss him.
Farewell, Pap…and thank you.