Whenever my brother and I would run to greet our Italian grandfather, it was always with an excited, “Hi Grandpa!” Grandpa Petosa would always answer back with an equally elated, “Hi Grandpa!”
This was a frequent habit of his; referring to me, my brother, or both of us collectively, as “Grandpa.” When I was little, I did not quite understand why Grandpa occasionally called us by his name (or rather, what I considered to be his name). It was very common for him to say, “C’mere, Grandpa,” when he wanted to hug us, or “Here, Grandpa, try this,” whenever he offered an edible treat. However, I never questioned him about it, and I do not believe my brother ever did either. Grandpa Petosa was always considered quite the joker in the family, so we assumed he was teasing us. And I suppose we became so accustomed to this habit that the reason did not really matter.
It was not until years later that I gained a better understanding of (or what I always assumed was) this personality quirk of my Grandpa’s. When Grandpa was in his mid seventies, he bought his own laptop computer, a gadget which he took to as eagerly as any teenager would. One of his favorite activities was composing essays on the computer and then emailing them to family and friends. He sent me an essay entitled “Papanonna,” a short piece written about his own grandfather whom he was very close to as a child. This clarified things quite a lot. I believe he can explain better than I can, so I will let him take over for a bit (the following are excerpts from Pascale “Pat” Petosa’s piece, Papanonna):
My Grandfather called me Papanonna. For me, that was his name. The King of Siam said it perfectly, “It’s a puzzlement!”
I was very close to my grandfather. I was named after him; we shared a bedroom; and when I was able to walk and out of diapers, we were inseparable. I recall, too, that he would beckon me with “Papanonna, vieni qui [come here].” He would then take a large, red handkerchief from his pocket to wipe my nose or clean a smudge from my face.
When my grandchildren greeted me with “Hi Grandpa!” something stirred within me, and I knew why my Papanonna called me by his name. He was giving an expression that I was a seamless extension of him, and that by referring to me by his name, he was telling me that he loved me as he loved himself. Perhaps it’s an ethnic thing. I recall my mother, particularly at times when I was abed with some childhood malady, would murmur softy and soothingly some Italian expression in which she would refer to me as “Mama.” These were words of love, reassurance and comfort for a sick child.
My Papanonna died in June 1931. I was five, going on six, years old. My grandchildren are a bit more mature. I do hope that when in some future time, a little person greets them with a, “Hi Grandpa” or “Hi Grandma,” they will remember, smile and understand, too.
I was about 13 or 14 when my Grandpa sent me his essay. His routine habit now made a lot more sense to me. Looking back, I think my brother and I always instinctively knew that when our grandfather referred to us as “Grandpa” it was meant to be a term of endearment; hence, why we never questioned it as children. I know now he was communicating that he loved us as he loved himself, just as his own grandfather communicated this message to him. While I recognize Grandpa’s message better now that I am older, that full perspective will likely not come to me for many more years. I am sure when that future day comes and I hear a certain someone say, “Hi Grandma!” that I will be able to look back and remember my own grandfather, who called me by his name to tell me how he loved me as dearly he loved himself. And I do hope that when I look back, I too will be able to understand.
Written by OSIA National Office Administrative Assistant, Laura Kelly.