Smoking Cigars with my Grandfather

I guess this is technically my first cigar.

This past June was the 8th anniversary of 2 significant events in my life:

  1. My grandfather (Pop, pictured above circa 1989) passed away.
  2. I started smoking cigars.

I thought about this while I was walking around my back patio last Friday, in silence, smoking a cigar. It reminded me of an iconic scene [in my mind] of Pop standing stoically in his long, steep driveway, smoking White Owl cigars. I’m told in his younger days he’d smoke much bigger ones while working construction in the city (New York City) after he came here.

Second Generation Immigrant

I, like perhaps many my age or older, am a Second Generation Immigrant by definition. Pop immigrated here in 1949 when he was just 19 years old.

He’s perhaps the reason I’m such a proud Italian. It was nothing overt he ever did — Pop was never overt about anything really — just having a close connection to such a historical country is what did it for me. It’s the reason I’m so interested in the culture, and country in general. I love being an Italian-American. It’s the reason I want to learn Italian.

When I was about 12 years old I had to interview him for a school paper; I asked him a bunch of canned questions about Italy and how and why he came over. If only I could redo that today with the perspective I have. I’ll never forgot what he told me when I asked what it was like living under Mussolini when I was in my 20s: “Mussolini did a lot for the country. He just got in with the wrong crowd.”

2 Wishes

The other day, when I thought about Pop, I also thought of 2 wish I also have as a result of that time.

The first is about the weekend before he passed. On that Saturday, my mom told me that I should go visit him since I hadn’t seen him in a while.

My brother Phil with Pop in 2009

I decided to put it off until Monday because I was going to be near his house anyway, so I could stop in and stay for a little longer before heading back to Scranton, which is where I was living at the time.

I didn’t get that chance. I don’t quite remember the exact time, perhaps the very early hours of Monday morning, but I was in a deep sleep when my brother Robby came into my room. He woke me up and told me Pop passed away an hour or so ago. I was filled with shock, followed by sadness, followed very quickly by regret.

I wish I had just gone to see him on Saturday when my mom told me to.

It was a bit sudden; none of us knew Pop was sick, if he was. Heck, he didn’t even bother his wife that night. He just said he was going to bed. That was Pop in a nutshell…he didn’t want to bother anyone if he didn’t have to.

Pop’s Final Stash

The 4 of us with Pop at Robby’s Communion

When Pop passed away, my brothers and I had the task of clearing out his stuff. There was a lot of great things — family history, knick knacks from a full life, and of-course, his last stash of cigars: 10–12 White Owls.

The 4 of us each smoked one that day. It was my first cigar, though I had puffed on one or two in the past.

My Start into Cigars

It was an activity I really enjoyed. Just my brothers and I talking about Pop, bonding and enjoying each other’s company. We would do the same thing in November of that year, on what would have been his 80th Birthday. It snowed but I didn’t really care.

I actually had smoked my first premium, broadleaf cigar a couple of weeks earlier for my own birthday. This was my first foray into cigars and I never stopped. I still have 2 of his cigars actually. I had one on me when I got married.

I actually owe a lot to cigars. Many of the connections I forged with people in the WordPress community, my previous full time job, friends all over the country; even though Pop isn’t alive today, I feel the effects he’s had on my life. This brings me to my second wish:

I wish I got into cigars a little sooner so I could have smoked with him, at least once.

I know each of my brothers think of Pop pretty frequently. He was our last grandparent to pass away and the one that we were closest with, likely due in part to him seeing us make it into adulthood.

I think of him almost every time I smoke a cigar because it’s such a pleasure in my life that has brought me a lot of joy, friendship, and even success in my career.

As a matter of fact, I think I’ll smoke one now. Thanks Pop.


Smoking Cigars with my Grandfather was originally published in Thoughts from Joe Casabona on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.