The last picture with my grandfather, in the days after my wedding. He is on the far right of this photo.
My poor papou has died. He was maternal step-grandfather, but was a blood relation paternally; he was my father's uncle. Nick Vroutos was a great man. When he married my grandmother, he became father to her four young children, including my mother, which was an unusual thing to do back then, especially in the Greek immigrant community.
When I young, he was the maître d’hôtel at the legendary Elk Hotel Restaurant in Port Jefferson, working shifts day and night in a light blue suit jacket. The other waiters all wore yellow jackets. As a little nerd I always thought this should be reversed; the captain should wear yellow, as in Star Trek
, and his underlings blue. After the decline of the Elks--half of it is now a Starbucks and half something else--he went on to operate a number of smaller places on Long Island and in Florida.
Papou was the ultimate cool customer, which was also unusual among my relatives. At least to me he always seemed easygoing, skillful with people of all sorts, always ready with a smile or a smirk. Handsome too. A photo of him as a young man hung on the wall of my grandmother's house. He looked just like Desi Arnaz. I even asked my yiayia once why she had a picture of "Ricky Ricardo" with the family pictures. When I was a kid, he quit smoking by using an ingenious method: he just wouldn't light his cigarettes. Lots of smokers complain of not knowing what to do with their hands when they try to quit, and they miss other little social practices associated with the filthy habit, but he found a way around it.
In recent years I saw him less. He was in FL, and selflessly stayed which my grandmother as she continues her decline into dementia. (Long-time readers may remember this story
--my grandmother was hiding at a neighbor's house a few doors down.) Today was their fifty-second wedding anniversary. He was healthy enough to occasionally scale the roof of his home and do repairs well into his 70s, though he did suffer from diabetes.
Last month, he had damaged his foot thanks to failing nerve endings, but was taken care of in the hospital. A few days later though, he was back, with pneumonia in one lung. He spent time in the ICU. We we're all worried, of course, but if we all rushed down there he might have thought he was dying. He needed dialysis to go with his pneumonia treatment as his kidneys were weak, but he was soon transferred to an ordinary hospital room. I decided that I would have to go to Florida this summer, so he could see my baby, photos of whom he enjoyed so much. Then he was released to start rehab, just yesterday. But last night he experienced a stomachache, his blood sugar changed, he passed out and then woke back up, and he was brought to the ER, where he did not recover. So he did not meet Oliver and I will not see my papou again in this world.