“The Breeze:” Reflections on my Grandfather

My Grandparents, Amelia and Anthony ("Breeze") Fabrizio.  They were married for over 51 years.

My Grandparents, Amelia and Anthony (“Breeze”) Fabrizio. They were married for over 51 years.

His name was Anthony Fabrizio.  Most people that knew him called him Tony.  Those that knew him best called him “Breeze.”

I called him Grandpa.

He passed away on April 9th…20 years ago today.  Time is funny…the way we treat it and the way it treats us.  20 years ago feels like so long ago and at the same time…so far away.  A lot has happened in my own life and to the lives around me in 20 years.  People have come and gone, a few have come back again.  But in many ways, the day he died still feels real and detailed…as if it were yesterday.

I was in 6th grade and on Spring Break when I heard the news.  He had died suddenly of a heart attack on the golf course…his favorite place to be.  Only a few months earlier, I had cracked my left ankle and I’d spent that entire winter on crutches.  Nothing’s worse for a 12 year old boy than being told he can’t run around with his friends, but that was the hand.  At the time I thought it was a punishment…now I see it was a generous gift.

Much of that winter was spent with Breeze…

Every day he picked me up from school and brought me back to my house.  Every afternoon we’d watch a movie.  He’d always let me pick.  And for the two hours between then and the time my Mother got home from work, we’d share that time together.  I’d like to say that time made us incredibly close…that it was then that we really bonded.  But the truth was that we were already very close before that winter.  At 11, I still had most of my life laid out before me…still much more to come.  At 77, he was nearing the end of his own life…sooner than either of us realized at the time.  Yet we seemed to understand each other so deeply, so intuitively.  When I say that he was my best friend, I’m not trying to make a point.  I mean it. Maybe it’s another sign to me to believe my own philosophy…that the youngest and the oldest of us are the ones that truly understand life for everything it is, and how to live it to its fullest.  It’s when we are in the middle of our lives that we understand it the least.

Upon reflection recently, a good friend shared with me some insight into her own grandfather, that when she was a child he seemed,  “to know everything.”  As children, our grandparents are our first heroes.  And Breeze was definitely my hero.  In many ways, he continues to be a compass that guides my morality and decisions from some place else far away and yet so strangely close.  To this day, my favorite movies are still the ones I think he would’ve enjoyed the most…and the experience of watching a special one with someone I care about always reminds me of sitting next to him.

Today, as I think about him, I recognize that I’m no longer a child.  I’m a man who three days from now will turn 32 years old.  And honoring Breeze with my thoughts of him isn’t enough.  I owe it not only to him, but to myself to discover what it is that I can learn from “his way.”  They are the lessons our ancestors leave behind for us when they pass, the story of their struggles, and the tools they used to overcome them and live a blissful life.  In the eleven short years we were together, and the twenty long years since these are the lessons I cherish the most…

Stay Connected:         Even as a I child, I took notice of how many people my grandfather knew.  Every day I spent with him he was taking me to see someone new.  Sometimes they were his brothers / my uncles, other times it was random friends from different stages of his life such as men he spent time with during the war, or the guys he worked with, or the people from the various organizations he led such as the American Legion, or the guys he grew up with after he arrived here from Italy.  But other times it was the wives and children these men left behind when they passed on.  He was always thinking of others, constantly, wondering how they were doing, and making plans to see them.  I was often his sidekick.  I really didn’t mind then, I found people interesting then, and still do to this day.   My grandfather could be a stubborn man, as am I, but he showed me that he didn’t believe in waiting on or blaming others.  He believed in letting those he cared about know he was always there.  By the time I had arrived, the man had mastered the art of the “drop by.”  If he hadn’t seen you in awhile, he’d just get in the car and go over there.  Things were different then, not as much plan-making through countless texts and emails.  It was a simpler time, and in my opinion, probably a better time.

Many times, some in his life would let him down.  They would drift away, and he’d be hurt…likely blaming himself.  It’s a shame, because opposite those few that he lost touch with were so many more that he remained close with.  I know because I remember many of them at his funeral.  They all knew exactly who I was…even the people I had never met.

It’s a curious thing about the human mind that even when we are so fortunate to have wonderful and abundant relationships with so much good and love circling around us, we find and focus on the negative experiences instead.  While he was aware of them, and they hurt him, he decided to focus on the positive and do the best he could with them.

I hope that I’ve honored him in my own life, and the incredible friendships I’ve not only made, but kept. True friendship isn’t keeping score…or weighing each other’s “involvement” or “contribution” to the friendship.  I’ve seen too many people drift apart that way, too many great friendships silently crumble.  If you’re my friend, I hope you know it and that I remind you of it when we’re together.  I hope that it feels like anytime we see each other that we’ve just picked up where we left off.  If so, then I’ve made Breeze proud.

Cherish Stories:         While my grandmother was truly the “storyteller” in that apartment, my grandfather had a penchant for the artform as well.  But as much as he liked to share stories of his past, he equally enjoyed watching, listening, and reading them.  My summers with my grandparents were filled with these stories.  TV shows, old movies (especially Westerns) and novels.  The summer I was nine, he and I read Frankenstein.  Earlier that summer they had taken me to the Land of Make Believe where they had a Monsters exhibit.  I made them take me back at least two others times that I can remember.  He bought comics for me, asked me to tell me what was happening in the stories, and encouraged me to draw like the art I enjoyed.  The summers spent with my grandparents were special because they fostered an imagination that was still reaching and activating.  There have been many people since that have tried to stifle, suppress, or dismantle the “freeness” of that creativity.  But thanks to my grandparents’ nourishment of it early-on I almost instinctually know to drift from those presences and gravitate towards those that instead encourage, invite, and cherish creative thought and imagination not just in me, but others as well.

Towards the end of last year, when I was doing some deep personal searching I came across a quote that really resonated with me.  “Go where you’re celebrated, not where you’re tolerated.”  It’s a great mantra for all of us to follow, and one that makes me think about Breeze.  There was never a time I saw him that I felt tolerated…never a time he treated me with indifference, or a time I was taken for granted.  I still try to follow this path in life.

Listening is Wisdom:      Along the same lines, as conversational and outspoken as he sometimes was, he and my grandmother were the first people I remember that actually listened to me.  I wasn’t judged, or lectured to, and even in the instances where I was definitely wrong he always heard me out and allowed himself to see things from my point-of-view.  Looking back now, I realize this kind of relationship was so valuable and empowering for me.  Not only because he allowed me to build my confidence in myself, but because the act of listening helps you lead others to build-up confidence in themselves.  He’s taught me that sometimes the key to helping a friend in need through a tough time is just listening to them.  The act of offering advice or in his case wisdom comes much later.  In Breeze’s case it usually came in the form of a question I didn’t consider asking myself or a story from his own life that offered another way of seeing the situation.

Enjoy Your Own Company:      As much as Breeze loved his friends, family, and even having conversations with complete strangers — he equally enjoyed the time spent alone.  I only knew him in retirement, but during that time I took notice of the walks he liked to take, or the drives he went on.  Granted I was with him a lot of this time, but we’d go through some stretches where we didn’t talk at all.  This wasn’t awkward, in fact it was peaceful.  He seemed to enjoy his thoughts, and had made peace of much that was within him.  I’d know it because he’d frequently start whistling or humming a random song or smirk about a thought that raced through his mind or laugh a little about a story that had just popped into his head.

When we’re young I think we do everything we can to change all those aspects about ourselves we don’t feel “fit” just right.  Often, it’s so people will like us, and at least one person will really love us.  But the key to being surrounded with these deep, meaningful relationships isn’t figuring out what others like about us but instead finding and being comfortable with all the aspects of ourselves…even the ones that don’t “fit.”

By the time I’d come into Breeze’s life he seemed to have made peace with himself and all the choices he had made.  He wasn’t perfect, and he didn’t try to be.  He did the best he could, but was always trying to be a little better.  Not to meet anyone else standard’s…just his own.  It’s why people enjoyed being around him so much, why endearing thoughts of him lingered hours after he’d left your kitchen.  How he’d leave not just the smell of his pipe behind at the places he visited, but also the warm sound of his laughter.

As I advance down the path of my own life, the smell of his pipe isn’t as easy to remember, the sound of his laughter or the way he’d loudly say my name seems increasingly distant.  At this point in my life, with so much going on, so many commitments and obligations to others, I have to remind myself of these lessons he taught me, the irreplaceable gifts he gave me.

But now as I think about all of the great moments in the past twenty years of my life, I give myself just a little bit of credit.  Because I have taken the time to think about him, what he would say if he were there, the advice he may offer or more importantly the silence he may deliver as he listened.  I’ve been fortunate enough to complete 4 movies I’m proud of since he passed away, and at each premiere I’ve looked out for that empty seat that he and I know really isn’t empty at all.

These were the good times.  They’re easy.  But it’s the rough patches in my life where I’ve really felt him close by…a few times I’d argue he even intervened.  In the last few years I’ve gotten better at recognizing him.  I think he’s helped me discover that the way to find the ones we love after they’ve passed on doesn’t come by looking up or out.  To discover them, we must look deep within.  That’s where they are and where they’ll always be.

That’s where Breeze is.  Close to my conscious, behind my goals and dreams, beside my laughter, and within my heart.   Now, he’s my sidekick…and  I couldn’t have asked for better company.

~ by Dan Fabrizio on April 10, 2013.

One Response to ““The Breeze:” Reflections on my Grandfather”

  1. I love this…and yes, my grandfather did know everything. Like yours, he was a man who touched the souls of many…and I was lucky to be amongst them.

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