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Memories of Pop Pop

To most of his fans, he was Mr. Amedeo.

To his closest family, he was Dick.

To me, he was Pop Pop!

When I think about it, my Pop Pop is the one and only, bonafide legend I’ve ever known. I know that label is overused, but he was one. Truly. An institution of Raleigh, North Carolina, the NCSU community, and the DeAngelis family. There’s no doubt in my mind about it.

I'm swimming in joyful memories of him, hours of which take place at the K&W cafeteria for 4:00 dinners. At one point, he learned how to play the spoons, and would rap loudly on the table to whatever beat was in his heart (much to the chagrin of the surrounding guests and servers, who had no choice but to tolerate him). Upon departing, he would hunch over and waddle out of the restaurant, poking fun at the senior citizens who made up the majority demographic of such places, and of which he did not yet count himself a part of. The man believed firmly in his own invincibility for quite some time.

I remember when my Mom Mom and Pop Pop took us to see “What Lies Beneath” in the movie theater, and how we had to leave early when my brother got spooked and knocked a full bucket of popcorn and extra large ICEE onto my Pop’s lap. Whatever fears we had from the film were immediately replaced with laughter.

One time, Mom Mom and Pop Pop took my brother Harry, my cousin Katie, and I to Pennsylvania to visit family, and on the long drive back, they agreed -- without any resistance -- to take us to Kings Dominion. After spending several hours there watching us ride roller coasters, after several hours on the road (which was after getting LOST), the front tire of the car blew and we spent several more hours on the side of the road under a bridge waiting for assistance. Looking back, that sounds like two senior citizens having the most miserable day of their existence, but I don’t recall ever feeling frustration or resentment. Pop had a joke to mitigate any stressful moment. A dangerous comedian, he could deflate any ego with a single punchline. It was thrilling to watch him stun the most pompous and self-absorbed characters into silence, then wrap an arm around them and bring their humbled asses back into the fold.

If you know Pop, then you’ve seen him whip it out (his NC State championship ring, that is). He would thrust that sucker in front of any restaurant server who played along with his game. I laugh thinking about the one time he accidentally dropped it on the floor at Elmo’s Diner in Carrboro after some undergrad wasn’t giving him the time of day. If you gave off airs or he sniffed out that you were being phony, you were in T-R-O-U-B-L-E! Heaven help you if you were labeled as a COCK-A-ROACH. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen the man literally WOOF at some poor, unsuspecting soul. He would contort his face in the most taunting, unnatural grimace behind your back, then smile a big toothy grin when you looked back in horror. It was even worse once he lost his teeth -- popping his dentures out quickly became one of his favorite party tricks.

The annual DeAngelis Family Christmas party at Aunt Sandy’s house was where he really worked his charm. He came prepared with a joke for every member of the family, devising his most clever quips for the in-laws. Once Aunt Sandy would put Mob Hits on the CD player, he would prowl the living room seeking out his next victim, to dance with or launch his poetic insults, which often began innocently with Roses are red, violets are blue...

Every legend has their kryptonite, however, and for Pop Pop, that was a grandchild. He had ten of them.

Ten grandchildren who stood on his shoes as he danced around the room to Angelina and Zooma Zooma and That’s Amore.

Ten grandchildren whose noses were stolen (and promptly returned) time and time again.

Ten grandchildren who know better than to pull any old man’s finger after falling victim to his potent gaseous outbursts.

Ten grandchildren who were made to feel special in their own unique way.

Eight grandchildren who got their first experience of work in elementary school, bussing tables, folding boxes, refilling drinks, steaming bread, and refilling salad dressing containers. Two grandchildren who will likely follow in those footsteps, once they are strong enough to carry a bus tray.

Working at Amedeo’s was a magical experience as a young child, regardless if we got ten entire dollar bills at the end of a lunch shift, or a roll of quarters to piss away on the bubble gum machine or the video poker TV at the end of the bar.

When I think of my Pop, I immediately find myself back at Amedeo’s, playing Hide and Seek in a restaurant full of prime hiding locations -- the dry storage closet behind the kitchen, underneath the tables in the 40s, 50s, and 60s sections, behind the cash register, in the breadmaking room, the scary walk-in freezer, and the men’s bathroom. All while customers are dining on pizza, lasagna, and baked ziti.

I will always remember the smell of his office at Amedeo’s -- honestly any space he occupied. Sir Walter Raleigh pipe tobacco.

The sound? Jerry Springer. The Price is Right. 60 Minutes. The Godfather. ON FULL BLAST in the living room where he held turf on his recliner -- not quite Don Corleone, but close, in his own mind.

I chuckle when I remember how he sweat so easily through his collared polo shirts.

How, when we had so many sleepovers at Mom Mom and Pop Pop’s house, we would NEVER dare to sleep in his bed, and instead pile up in Mom Mom’s bed (despite the fact that she snored like a freight train). Why? Because Pop Pop’s bed was covered in saltine cracker crumbs from when he would sneak down to the kitchen in the middle of the night to grab a pack of them, along with some peanut butter, and bring them back to devour, without mercy.

How, when we got older, the cousins and I would follow my aunt and uncles’ lead and creep up behind Pop Pop and pull his pants down, then run away howling in laughter. How could he, the ultimate prankster, be mad? He started it!

I suppose my own entrepreneurial spirit first took root from watching Pop, who would pass out jars of homemade spaghetti sauce from the back of his car trunk to friends and strangers alike. Pop was the type who would do a favor for anyone...ANYONE...and worry about how it might inconvenience him later, or not even at all. I don’t even know half of all the people he helped bail out. People who needed a chance, and he gave it to them by giving them a job. People stayed loyal to him because of his generosity.

Pop was a friend to all. He simultaneously commanded the attention of any room and took time to engage in sincere conversation with the wallflowers. I imagine there are more introverts than extroverts who are eternally devoted to him.

You see, as much of a wise-ass and cantankerous mischief-maker as he was, he was also the most vulnerable man I’ve ever met.

I’m thankful for the tender moments when I watched him shed a tear to a beautiful song, or the accomplishment of a grandchild, or the loss of a family member.

My Pop Pop was a full man. An imperfect, but full man. Fully aware of his flaws. Full of love. And, much to his own pleasure, full of shit! Who knows which stories were 100% true, half-embellished, or completely made up!? I know for a fact that there are people out there who believe that he is an Italian mafioso, and I plan to honor his memory by never correcting them.

That’s why it is so difficult to be sad that he is no longer physically with us. The idea that such a full and remarkable spirit could ever diminish from this earth is just laughable.

I do not concern myself too much with what happens after biological life has ended, but I like to imagine that our energy gets transferred into some other form.

I like to think that he is free from the guilt that made a home in his heart after my Mom Mom passed away, 15 years ago.

I like to think that he feels relief knowing that his siblings and children and grandchildren are at peace with one another.

It makes me happier than anything in the world that he got to meet his great grandchild, my cousin Katie’s daughter, named Betty Jane after his beloved wife.

I like to think that he will approach the gates to his personal heaven, make a sharp happy exclamation when he sees so many of his friends’ names on the list, and an equally sharp “Oh, shit-so! Cock-a-roach!” when it is confirmed that some of them aren’t.

I like to imagine that he will continue his antics in spiritual form to keep us humble, and melt our hearts to keep us connected.

In the story of my childhood, Pop Pop was best supporting actor, comic relief, champion, antihero.

When I close my eyes and dream of him, I know I will return to a warm, brightly lit room, where I am standing gingerly on his feet as he rocks us side to side to the tune of a bittersweet, Italian love song.

Pop Pop, I love you as big as the sky. And don’t worry, I’ll be sure to leave the gun and take the cannoli.

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