The Grandest of All Grandfathers


On January 11, 1968 my grandfather died. His name was Herbert Tintle and he was the best grandfather a child could have.

What made him special was that he was kid-oriented. He may have been 74 years old, but he was still 12 at heart. As a child, I’m told, Grandpa was a handful. In eighth grade he gave the nuns so much trouble that his father — my great grandfather, Augustus — walked into his classroom and dragged him out by his collar. Once they got outside my great grandfather announced to his son that he no longer would go to school. Instead, he’d go to work. Within an hour his father had him shoveling coal in their basement for the next five hours. The next day he was driving a horse-driven carriage around Paterson, New Jersey, making food deliveries 10 hours a day.

His life for the next few years was steady, hard work, but it never broke his spirit. Apparently he was a clown during his teen years. My father and uncles used to regale me with stories about how Grandpa often tied bedsheets together, lowered himself out of the fourth-story window of 35 Oak Street, pushed off the side of the building and tried to swing Tarzan style to the neighbor’s apartment house next door.

When he wasn’t endangering his life from great heights, he liked to race cars when the Passaic River froze over. Yeah, Grandpa was different. In 1915,  he somehow earned entrance into Columbia University. How is a mystery, but he took a two-year course and earned a gold medal in mechanical engineering. I’ve seen the medal and his report card, so I know that much is true.

During World War I he joined the Navy and saw submarine duty, but halfway across the Atlantic the crew got word that the war was over. Grandpa didn’t complain. He headed home and met a girl named Agnes Merna. They eventually married and had three sons.

Grandpa, it seemed, never lived up to his potential. He did not pursue a career in mechanical engineering. Instead, he took a job as a Public Service bus driver and worked long, hard hours to support his family through the Great Depression.

In 1952 I was born, his first grand child. He bathed me with love and attention and would do anything I asked. He took me for rides on his bus and often we went out for ice cream. (It didn’t matter that he was a serious diabetic). One time he even built me a go-cart replete with horn and headlights.

“Anything for my boy,” he often said.

Grandpa was true to his word. One September when I was four years old my mother decided to send me to pre-kindergarten at St. Anthony’s Church in Paterson. I usually spent Saturdays with Grandpa and I didn’t want to go to this strange place. But I did. I remember the first day in class the nun running the program asked me a question that I did not know the answer to. The older kids laughed and I sunk in my seat. As she kept up the questioning, I grew more miserable.

This happened again the following week, and when I went back to my grandfather’s house he could tell something was wrong. I told him about the annoying nun and how I didn’t want to go to school there anymore. He just listened quietly.

The next week my mother dropped me off at St. Anthony’s and about an hour into class my grandfather showed up at the door. He walked in, took me by the hand, and led me away. The nun made some noise but as my grandfather told me years later he basically told her to mind her own business and quit teasing his grandson. And, by the way, he was going to mention her actions to the pastor.

Now that’s a grandfather!

But he still had another trick up his sleeve. That summer he told me about the Paterson Falls. He explained it was a 45-foot high waterfall in the city of Paterson and that we ought to visit it. So we drove across town and parked by Hinchliff Stadium, not far from the falls. Then, as now, there is an iron bridge that crosses over the waterfall and that’s where he took me for a closer look. I can still feel the cool spray of thousands of gallons of water rushing over the rocky ledge from the Passaic River.

I must have wanted a better view that day because Grandpa picked me up by my wrists and dangled me over the walkway. I remember something about it to this day, but apparently I remembered it quite clearly when my mother came to pick me up that afternoon. When she asked how my day went I told her Grandpa had taken me to the Paterson Falls. She thought that was neat until I mentioned that he had dangled me over the walkway by my wrists to get a better view.

A shouting match erupted between Grandpa and my mother. Although my grandfather was a tough guy, I’m told he was no match for my mother that day.

My last memory of Grandpa was Saturday, December 23, 1967. My father and I had gone to visit him just before Christmas to invite him to our house for holiday dinner. We spent a few hours talking and having a good time. Then, as we were about to leave, Grandpa leaned out of his living room window two stories up and yelled to the street below where my father and I were standing by our car.

“Here Joey, catch,” he shouted.

As I looked up, he tossed me a bag of candy. He wished me well, said he loved me, and yelled, “Merry Christmas.”

“You too, Grandpa.”

He died 20 days later. But every time I pass his house, I park my car, get out, and replay that scene from 48 years ago over and over and over


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