Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Goodbye Pop Pop




Harry J. Walls

October 26, 1932 - December 13, 2016

If I ever wanted to blame someone for all my geeky tendencies, I would probably need to start with my grandfather Harry.  We called him Pop Pop.  My very first memories of playing video games were by his side. 

I was just 4 or 5 years old at the time. Not 100% sure of when, but I know exactly where: Wildwood, New Jersey.  And we're not talking some vague memories, but rather something very specific.  Pop Pop would take me into one of the arcades on the boardwalk to play two games: Star Wars and Punch Out.  I can't remember which arcade exactly, but there was one of them where the two machines were right next to each other, just near the front. 

The Star Wars game was that old one where it was all vector graphics.  I'd hold the weird flight yoke and would shoot lasers at sparkling blaster bolts fired by the TIE Fighters.  I couldn't reach, so he'd have to pull up a step stool for me to stand on.  He'd just watch, quietly giving tips, until it was his turn to play. 

Then we'd move over to Punch Out.

Pop Pop was the Punch Out MASTER! If you remember that game, it was the original, where you played as a see-through, green guy. I loved watching him play, and I can't imagine how much money he'd sink in quarters into that game.  Pop Pop's arch nemesis in the game was Bald Bull.  I remember Bald Bull from Mike Tyson's Punchout on the NES, but there was a Bald Bull in the arcade version as well.  I can't remember how far Pop Pop got past Bald Bull, if at all, but he was quite the topic of conversation. 

Some time, probably the same summer, we were out in the ocean.  It was deep... well, deep for me... and I couldn't reach the bottom.  I also couldn't swim, but Pop Pop had me.  Well, the waves were hitting us pretty hard, and I remember one of them getting us, dunking my head under water.  I had some water up my nose, and I think I started to cry and that was when Pop Pop made the perfect video game reference.

"That was a 'Bald Bull' wave!" my grandfather laughed.   

That image in my mind, of my grandfather holding me safe while cracking a joke is pretty much exactly how he lived his entire life. A steadfast guardian and confidant with an incredibly sharp sense of humor that lasted to the very end. 

*     *     *

Here are a few of my other favorite stories about Pop Pop:

  • When I was eleven or twelve my brother and I got permission from my grandfather to go down in the creek behind his house and go exploring. He would've never let us do this when he was awake, so we decided to ask him when he was half asleep and still in bed. He gave us a weak "uh huh" and we were off to play in the mud. He was not very happy when we returned. 
  • I remember my grandfather giving me a lesson about "value" while at a Roy Rogers. After getting our burgers, he proceeded to make a salad at the Fixin's Bar. He told me this was a great deal. I think he even made dressing by mixing the mayo and ketchup. He ate this alongside his sandwich. I declined.
  • Speaking of fast food, Pop Pop (and Mom Mom for that matter) also really enjoyed Wendy's Super Bar. It was always a huge treat to go out to Wendy's for a Friday night dinner if we were visiting. 
  • My grandfather had this super heavy metal fan without a cover, that he'd leave running in his house. To this day, I don't know how one of us Walls kids didn't end up missing a hand.
  • Back in the early '90's I kept doing the "You Lika Da Juice" sketch from Saturday Night Live in front of Pop Pop. In the sketch, the actors were in a greek gyro restaurant asking customers if they wanted more juice. I continuously asked him "You lika da juice, uh? Da juice is good, uh?" It may have been the only time I got under Pop Pop's skin, because he eventually told me that I had to stop. Pop Pop would then continue to ask ME "You lika da juice?" for the next 23 years. 
  • Pop Pop used to drive around in an old microvan (Nissan?) with a back seat full of bricks and a baseball bat. The bricks were for keeping flower arrangements (my grandmother was a florist) upright. The bat was for... well... I don't know. I guess that was for those times when the shit was going to go down. 
  • My grandfather liked watching a good fight. My dad would throw me and my brother in his old Toyota pickup to drive to Pop Pop's house to watch Ultimate Fighting Championship videos. This was way-back in the days where these were really "no holds barred". I remember Pop Pop just crying out "eww... eww!" as Joe Son (master of Josondo) got his nuts punched repeatedly by Keith Hackney in UFC 3. Good times.

*     *     *

To see the full obituary for my grandfather, you can follow this link