'Live, Laugh, Love' like Pooky

We lost my paternal grandfather, Pooky, last month. He would have been 99 in August. He did not die from COVID-19 but was a victim, nonetheless.

Pooky was the life of the party who never met a stranger. He had the unique ability to draw even the most curmudgeonly into his circle and find common ground in his many passions and joys. His was a life well-lived, full of love and laughter.

The story of how he became "Pooky" is one I never tire of telling. As kids, my brother and I would visit him and our grandmother for one glorious week every summer, where we were spoiled beyond reason and showered with love and Toys 'R' Us shopping sprees.

One of those summers, we were cleaning out their cluttered attic when I made an amazing discovery - their high school yearbook. In it, my grandpa was repeatedly referred to as "Pooky." He couldn't remember why he'd gotten the nickname, but he'd lost it when he left home for the Navy and WWII. Now almost 60, he was slightly mortified when we immediately adopted it. He probably hoped we'd quickly lose interest, but it fit our small, round, jolly grandpa so perfectly that we never stopped. Eventually, it was just who he was.

Everywhere he put down roots, he'd walk into a place and there'd be a "Norm from Cheers" moment when you'd hear "POOKY!" When the great-grandchildren started showing up, that's all they knew. His whole face would light up when a tiny voice would squeal "Pooky!" and run into his hugs.

Pooky was devoted to his wife, immensely proud of his only son, doted on his grandchildren and loved his great-grandchildren with joyful abandon. He passed down his love of airplanes to my brother, now a pilot. I have embraced his love of a good story, told with humor. And though no one in the family adopted his full-throated passion for the Cubs, his love of baseball is shared by my oldest. We all carry unique, treasured moments.

This past Father's Day, since we weren't allowed in his nursing home, my brother, our kids and I visited him outside, flying a drone with a "We Love Pooky" sign up to his second-floor window, while shouting to him via speaker phone. He waved, laughed and told us he loved us, too. It is a bittersweet goodbye, since we didn't know at the time that he was ready to go. But he was and he did, on his terms, as he lived his life: full of joy, laughter and love.

Long before it became cliché, Pooky embodied the mantra of "Live, Laugh, Love." Having witnessed many troubled times in his long life, it is still what he wanted for us all. So, I implore everyone to embrace your inner Pooky: be kind, be happy, laugh at a good story and love with joyful abandon.

PS: Please help protect all of our Pookys - wash your hands and wear a mask!

- Jen Dean of Hinsdale is a former contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].