Little kids with lollipops. Now, I don’t have anything against little kids. Or lollipops, for that matter. I was peeved by the stare he gave Pop-Pop, my grandfather, as we walked by. Everywhere Pop-Pop and I go, we attract stares. It’s not because I am so handsome or that Pop-Pop is in such good shape but something entirely different. I have become something of an expert at classifying the type of faces people make when they see us. The first is the wide eyed “what-is-that” which Pop-pop gets from little kids. The second is a look of pity from adults when they see his crutches. I’m guessing their line of thinking is something like “oh, that poor man.” The third is the look of pity I receive. “Oh that poor boy”; they think it’s a misfortune to have to walk slowly behind a man with crutches. When people stare sadly at the two of us, I hold my head high with pride. You see, people just don’t know. They don’t know that my grandfather is a fighter. They don’t know he’s walked with crutches for forty years. They don’t know that this seventy year old still likes parties, cheers for me at my basketball games and faithfully attends boxing matches. They don’t realize the profound impact my grandfather has on me.
Today, Pop-Pop and I drive to the Golden Gloves at Madison Square Garden. Now, my grandfather loves to talk. Fortunately, I know how to deal with it. A couple of well timed “uhuhs” and “nuh- uhs” keep the man content. While he rumbles about his new cell phone, (which happens to be a model 6 years old), I find myself thinking deeply on how things work out in life. At 32, he lost his legs in a train accident. “Alex, did you hear me? Will you help me with the camera on my phone?” insists Pop-Pop. I quickly realize that I had stopped “uh-uhing” at all the right spots. “Sure,” I reply automatically. Satisfied, Pop-Pop continues to rattle on.
We reach Madison Square Garden and park in the handicapped section; one of my favorite perks of traveling with him. He walks slowly towards the entrance and the sound of his metal crutches brings me back my previous line of thought. After Pop-Pop lost his legs, he was fitted for prosthetics. The remarkable thing about my grandfather is that he is a fighter. I don’t mean that he whacks boxers over the head with his crutches, though that would really be a sight. He could take on any boxer with those crutches. I mean that he doesn’t give up. However trite it may sound, there is really no other way to describe Pop-Pop’s life. No one would have thought any less of him if after his accident he decided not to rejoin society, much less love life the way he does.
“May I have your tickets,” interrupts the usher, once again jolting me out of my thinking. I sigh as I conclude that the crowded aisles of Madison Square Garden are not the best spot for pensive pondering. I decide to hold off on the deep thinking at least until the second fight. Big brutes slugging each other and profound thoughts go well together. As I watch the fight, I consider the influence Pop-Pop has had on my life. By observing his everyday activities, I am inspired to be a better person. Pop-pop is a fighter. He didn’t let his handicap slow him down. After his accident, he went on to have his fourth child, graduate with a masters and get his CPA license. He has shown me to fight the good fight; no cliché intended. What I fight for may not equal his battles, but it can really feel that was sometimes. The easy way would have been to attend my local high school, walk to school with friends, get out of bed when the sun is shining, and maybe even be at the head of the class. But I wanted more. I consider this every morning when I leave the familiarity of my neighborhood in order to attend an academically-enriched high school an hour and half away. At first, I feared I would not meet the high demands of my teachers. I feared not making new friends. I feared the daily grind would prove overpowering. But I am a fighter, and have overcome.
“Great right hook” shouts Pop-Pop enthusiastically. I realize this is not an interruption of my thoughts, but rather the end. As I watch the fighters punch each other for all their worth, I decide Pop-Pop is more of a fighter than either of them; and so am I.
Alexander Quintero, Age 17 Grade 12, High School of American Studies, Silver Key