I'll never forget the man I called Dedo.
My maternal grandfather, Anton "Andy" Cindrich, was born in Croatia and immigrated to the United States, where he would work in the mills and become a union organizer. He was a self-educated man who taught English to his fellow steelworkers and whose vocabulary rivaled that of someone college-educated.
By today's standards, it's hard to comprehend how my grandparents raised five children in a four-room house. Skilled in carpentry, examples of Dedo's work were displayed throughout their cozy South Side home.
Above the sofa hung his wooden moon and star featuring miniature stairs leading to the "heavens." A small wooden chair in the kitchen served as a seat for a visiting grandchild and doubled as a step stool for Baba to reach items in overhead cabinets. Every bride-to-be in the family was gifted with a step stool as well as a handcrafted Nativity stable.
Dedo loved words and often challenged an opponent to a game of Scrabble. The stakes were "a penny a point," an amount we still wager today. Dedo crafted a turntable for the Scrabble board; attached to a plastic lazy susan, a wooden circle housed the board squarely in its center, providing an area around it in which to scatter the face-down tiles.
Each of his gifts included a heartfelt message. Using two fingers, Dedo would carefully peck at the keys of his manual typewriter, putting his sentiments onto paper and gluing the note to the back of the gift.
One loving message written to my mother: "May this Scrabble turntable bring you happy hours of entertainment and the bit of luck for top enjoyment. September 1, 1968 -- Dad."
That same year, my siblings and I received a Merriam-Webster dictionary from Dedo. "To Debra, Robert and Roberta. This gift is given with hopes that all of you will forever strive for a higher and better education. Christmas 1968 -- A. Cindrich."
Each Christmas the family gathered to celebrate. Dedo made a slotted board to hold money envelopes from Mellon Bank, each containing a $5 bill. He'd line up his grandchildren from youngest to oldest and one by one we'd choose our envelope.
In addition to the currency, one, two or three pennies were enclosed. Getting one penny ensured a happy new year; two an even happier one; and finding three pennies secured the promise of the happiest new year of all! As thrilled as we were to receive the $5, it was the shiny pennies we cherished most.
In the summer of 1973, I earned a six-week trip to St. Olaf College in Minnesota to attend an economics program for high school students. It was my first time away from home. Once again, Dedo came through.
I received several neatly prepared letters from him, his typos uniformly "X-ed" out in that age before computers. "Dear Heart," each letter began, and in a chatty tone he'd proceed to summarize the goings-on back home.
It was the summer of the Watergate hearings and Dedo was cemented to his television, cursing "Nixie" and relating the progress of the hearings, as if the news hadn't yet reached small-town Northfield.
I remember the day he died. One minute I was in a classroom at Pitt conjugating Spanish verbs, and the next I was walking into my house only to learn the sorrowful news. His funeral reflected the largeness of his life. The viewing ran for several days and many people came to the funeral home to pay their respects.
There were neighbors, representatives of the Croatian Fraternal Union and fellow retirees from Jones & Laughlin. As my cousins and I sat in an outer room sharing memories of our grandfather, we were admonished by a mourner for giggling so loudly. We stopped for a brief moment but then returned to our celebration of Dedo. For how better to honor our grandfather than with the same kind of laughter and love he had brought to all our lives?
Dedo died several years before I married, so I would never receive one of his prized step stools or Nativity stables. Yet, in his own way, he gave me so much more.
Robin Prevade of Collier, who works as a recruiter at a nonprofit organization, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The PG Portfolio welcomes "Holiday Herald" submissions about best (or worst) holiday memories, in addition to other reader essays. Send your writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.