October 26, 1991 was a different kind of day than I was used to. Cheerleading had become my entire life since 1987, and cheering at a game was nothing unusual.
But on 10/26/91, cheerleading was different. For one thing, we went on a Big Bus. Going to South Shore Christian, a teeny school in Levittown, everyone who took the bus rode a small one, because we were gathered from random homes around Long Island. So to ride on a “regular” school bus felt pretty glamorous, that day.
I don’t remember why exactly we were getting fancily shuttled to an away soccer game. We were basketball cheerleaders. Our school was too poor to afford football, so our sad-ass basketball team equaled our personal Friday Night Lights.
And did I mention we were representing a Christian school? For exactly one year in seventh grade when the cheerleading squad was formed, we had vaguely appropriate uniforms: short-sleeved and lightweight sweaters, ’80s-regulation pleated skirts.
The rest of the time, we were cloaked in heavy, long-sleeved sweaters that would have been fantastically appropriate for actual Friday nights, out in the cold. Inside a gym, not so much.
So on October 26th, it was pretty exciting to embark the Big Bus in my heavy sweater to cheerlead outside. Granted, it was soccer. Why we were cheering for soccer, I do not remember. But it was a great time. The fall air was crisp and my sweater felt protective, not cumbersome. Who won or lost the game, I have no idea. But it felt like all the Sweet Valley High fantasies I’d had my whole life, come to fruition in one day.
Afterwards, my family went to my Nanny and Pop-Pop Posch’s house for a dinner of some nature. And I was feeling completely on point, doing my job as a teenage granddaughter. Making the elders proud via good grades and school spirit.
Kind of like with the soccer cheerleading, I don’t firsthand remember why we were at my grandparents’ house on a Saturday. Most non-holiday gatherings were held on Sundays. But there we were. Since my Pop-Pop had his stroke earlier that year, right before Easter, every following moment with him felt like a gift.
That Easter, super soon after his initial stroke, my Pop-Pop had returned to the fold and the dining room. A proud man, to be sure, and as his hands shook terribly while he stood up to cut the roast as the head of the household, I fully felt his anxiety and the pressure of the situation, even at 16.
I was SO glad to have him back, though. I hated that I couldn’t help his hands not shake and that he couldn’t be fully who he used to be, and that he desperately wanted a cigarette that he wasn’t supposed to have.
A few weeks after October 26th, my Pop-Pop had a reaction to his medication, went to that hospital in East Meadow, and died after a battle with his own machines that were trying to keep him alive, but couldn’t. And shouldn’t have, because he was a proud, strong man who wouldn’t have wanted to ersatz live like that.
He didn’t want pity; he didn’t want help. He wanted to basically be left alone, to be the kind, gentle giant he’d become, even though he wasn’t a big dude. He wanted to smoke a cigarette or two. He wanted his wife to be cherished and loved and respected.
Beyond that, I can’t speak for what my grandfather wanted. He was a private man, a meteorologist for the Air Force who worked long, hard hours for which he never expected accolades.
I loved him. And October 26, 1991 was the last day I remember seeing him alive. Like every time since that Easter, I hugged him even though we’re not really a hugging family, and I said “I love you.”
I think of this every single year since that last October 26th. Pop-Pop, I hope with all my heart to See You On The Other Side ❤