In late May I found myself at the waiting area of a diner and one in which my grandfather and I used to regularly meet at for lunch.
As I sat on the waiting bench I began to stare at the New York Yankees and Mets baseball memorabilia in a display case, where I then thought back to the traditional conversations he and I used to have about sports.
Pop-Pop Pete and I could talk about professional sports for hours at a time, and to the point where I eventually felt like I was a team’s general manager explaining my philosophies to attending media members during a big press conference. That’s how interesting he would make lunch with a young Kyle McKenna.
He would sit there impressed wanting to hear all of my insights and opinions with a big smile and laugh, “You’ve got a knack for sports Bub, that’s for sure.”
That’s where the grassroots began for myself discovering my passion for sports — at lunch with Pop-Pop. And, sports served as our source of communication. He and I would always have something to talk about no matter the circumstances.
Though, Pop-Pop and I didn’t get lunch that day, as he passed earlier that morning.
Still, I reflected to when our conversations would shift over from sports, or his enthusiasm for my hockey playing days, to all aspects of life; as an old friend of his recently told me,
“We used to sit on the bench outside for hours and solve all the problems of the world, but that was of course after Pete and I talked about what was going on in the world of sports…”
I wasn’t surprised and couldn’t help but smile after I had heard that one.
I patiently waited for an old friend of mine at the lunch spot — he was about ten minutes late for our meeting — something I was often guilty of when meeting Pop-Pop out for one of our classic talks. Pop-Pop made it known that as soon as I could drive I should always be on time.
But, I would still defend myself in pleading my case that being 10 minutes ‘late’ meant I was on time considering that I’m a McKenna.
But yes, out of sentimental reasons I had to get lunch at that spot and on that day — if it counts for anything.
Pop-Pop was a superstar athlete and even earned a basketball scholarship to Villanova, which just so happened to surprisingly win an NCAA National Title recently. Great timing Nova.
Though, he had many admirable traits and being a family oriented person was without a doubt the one characteristic that stood out the most, for me.
From the time I was born Pop-Pop and I had an unconditional and unique relationship, especially considering I was his first son as he was a father of three daughters and already the grandfather of one granddaughter. He consistently displayed an uncanny enthusiasm for whatever activity my older sister and I were into as kids and then growing up — whether it was a sport or not.
He was a loyal face court side, along a field’s sidelines and then his familiar smile could eventually be seen behind the glass in an ice rink. Yet, his presence wasn’t just there for his two grandchildren, but for his extended family as well.
Petey was notoriously a fan at my cousin’s sporting events too, and quickly became one of the biggest field hockey enthusiasts in the family, as my sister and a McKenna cousin of ours had both picked up the sticks while traveling across the state to compete — with Pop-Pop at each and every game.
For me that was one of, and if not the, most admirable trait from Pop-Pop Pete. It was natural for him to take the extra initiative to be a part of his other family, the McKennas.
Is that how it’s supposed to be where someone like a Pop-Pop Pete can become such a socially beloved and loyal guy to his son-in-law’s big Irish family? I’m not sure if that’s how it’s supposed to be…
But is that how Pete Foster wanted it to be?
And, I’m forever thankful nor alone in appreciating that either. So thank you Pop-Pop for setting a commendable family example. I hope that symbol of appreciation can continue in the family as time moves forward.
While I had a good relationship with my Pop-Pop he wasn’t shy about giving me heat at times and making sure I learned from my mistakes, especially as his grandson got older. At times I felt like I was talking to the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
When I was at fault, whether it was choice in everyday life, or even if I came off the ice after a bad game he wasn’t one to spoon feed me what I wanted to hear. And, just because it wasn’t what I wanted to hear doesn’t mean it’s not what I should have heard.
I realized he wasn’t my friend.
He was a parent.
While I may have received a few bucks after scoring some goals at the rink, I didn’t always get a trophy when I saw him. Which was good. That mentality when it was necessary helped me grow as person and challenge myself going forward.
I appreciated and respected that. That’s not always the case today.
There are two more things that stand out to me.
My first college hockey game — it was exciting scoring my first goal during my first game in front of the home crowd with family and friends in the stands. After scoring I can remember looking up behind one of the nets to see Pop-Pop in a seating area behind the glass. There, he sat with his arms folded while wearing one of his pullover sweatshirts from the 1990’s and wearing an old navy blue baseball cap; we made eye contact and he then gave me a nod of approval — there was George Steinbrunner — giving his approval to one of his longtime players from the owner’s suite at the old Yankee Stadium.
I walked out of the locker room that night to find Pop-Pop sitting off to the side — one of the few to hang around late afterwards. I quietly handed him the puck and made sure he held onto that one. No words were needed. It was a tribute to our relationship.
It rests with him to date.
When I began my exploration with writing and this blog — I wasn’t sure how he would react.
I caught him off guard for sure when I began typing away and writing about things, well, other than sports. He made it known he enjoyed it and appreciated my work — as he soon became my biggest fan for another interest of mine.
Happy belated Father’s Day Pop-Pop Pete,