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Adam Kaminski | The Cool Column

Car Rides are fun. Grandparents are funner.

Published: Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Updated: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 03:01

I don’t often share personal information with strangers, but today maybe I will. Car rides, even the longest, most grueling treks imaginable (from Tufts to Russia via a hypothetical bridge crossing the Bering Strait), are, to me, totally enjoyable. Sitting still, absentmindedly gazing at litter strewn about the highway, and bickering with fellow passengers are all, I’m proud to say, fortes. 

Fortunately, I’m able to utilize this temperament or skill or whatever-you-want-to-call-it routinely enough, and amply whenever I’m on vacation. This past winter break met my expectations — my family traveled by car to New Jersey (six hours-ish — mere child’s play) to visit my patrilineal grandparents and aunt. My sister’s unamused glares were about as cold as the snow coating the edges of the New Jersey Turnpike. My dog’s flatulence was about as pungent.

If driving is half the fun, spending time with relatives is the other two thirds (frustrated math majors can suck it up). This visit I was especially excited to see everyone; it would be a reunion of sorts, our first meeting since I left for college, and our first meeting in what felt like a year. They’ll remember my name, right? They’ll remember that I love full body, deep muscle massages, king sized beds and expensive gifts, right? 

I was eager to see the entire family, of course, but I felt particularly called to see and thank one specific member: my grandfather, Pop Pop, in his 80s, the most loyal and faithful reader of this column. The origins of the name “Pop Pop” are unclear (by that I mean I can’t remember them this exact moment) but for as long as I’ve known him that’s been his title. I would ask my parents to explain but they’ll probably contact me soon anyway. 

He greeted me casually and warmly, with a joke and a startlingly loud laugh. His laughs are the sort that guide you to the same sense of amusement. Minutes prior I could have bombed a test, broken up with my girlfriend and fed my beloved pet guinea pig to a tank of sharks, and such cachinnation would have still forced a chuckle. In his household laughter and its accompaniments, content and restfulness, are thankfully appreciated. They aren’t taken for granted.

Pop Pop grew up in the Bronx, worked a tugboat on the Hudson River, posed naked for an artist’s anatomy book and may or may not be embarrassed that I’m sharing these factoids with you. Lately, however, he’s been supporting me in my every endeavor. He’s been with me in spirit -- admittedly more often than I’ve been with him. He deserved a “thank you” then, as he does now, but there’s something else. Lavish massages, beds, gifts and jokes aside, Pop Pop has been an inspiration. 

When I sit and indulge in a silent car ride, I feel like I’m at least partly channeling implicit lessons from my friends in New Jersey. As hectic, hell-risen and disturbed as life can be, as off-putting as the New Jersey Turnpike can look and smell, finding an inner sanctuary is possible. I close the windows, turn on the car’s fan and eat bananas. The smell subsides and my focus averts. Pop Pop laughs and momentary struggles suddenly seem less threatening. I can’t imagine he ignores them, but it’s harder to be miserable when you’re sharing a smile. 

The trip home is always a more somber drive, and on this vacation it was no different. But as filth-laden snow banks, aggressive drivers and funny looking passengers whizzed past I felt content in our bubble, gazing through the window removed from it all. The vacation did what it should have done. It reunited relatives, sparked laughter and gave me a temporary center. That’s all a grandson could ask for. 

 

Adam Kaminski is a freshman who has not yet declared a major. He can be reached at Adam.Kaminski@tufts.edu.

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