3. The Man

Pop-Pop wasn't always the hero of his own stories, but he was always the hero of mine.

Pop-Pop, my grandfather, was a Navy guy.

From the time I was six years old, his endless stories of his ships and shipmates gave me a much-needed escape from my home life and my parents fighting, their battles fueled by my dad’s obsession with alcohol.

Instead of wondering if we’d have to pick up Dad at the bar in the middle of the night, I preferred to imagine drifting on a ship in the middle of the ocean.

Instead of listening to Mom sobbing to herself in her bedroom, I preferred to daydream of traveling to places that I’d only read about in Encyclopedia Britannica or saw on the covers of National Geographic.

Pop-Pop wasn’t always the hero of his own stories, but he was always the hero of mine.

blurry close up of garden

When Pop-Pop wasn’t reminiscing about his lifelong service in the Navy, he kept me occupied in his vegetable garden. He taught me how to nurture each seedling from sowing through planting to the plate.

You could find him in his garden every afternoon, inspecting each row as if they were tiny little sailors whose success in life depended completely upon him.

He took great care of his crops, and his connection to them was obvious in the way they grew, vibrant and resilient.

blurry close up of garden

Every night after dinner, he’d retire to his den to watch John Wayne movies and I’d interrupt him, eager to vanish with him into his sea stories.

Seventeen years later, that same eagerness fills me as I leave Virginia, bound for USS Shoup.