This is my Pop-Pop, Kyle Higgins. He was one of the most wonderful men in the whole wide world, gang. I kid you not. He was my dad’s stepfather, something I didn’t know until I was 10 years old…my father called him “Dad” or “Pop,” and Kyle always called my father his son.
He adopted my father when he and my grandmother got married. My dad was eleven at the time, and changed his name to Higgins. Pop-Pop sent my father to boarding school—to his own alma mater, in fact—and to college.
When my dad was 19, Pop-Pop introduced him to a cute girl who worked with him at Saks Fifth Avenue, where my grandfather was a salesman. My father said, “Dad, I don’t need your help finding girls.” This was very true; my dad was wicked handsome.
But Pop-Pop insisted, and when my father finally appeared, unshaven and looking like a young Elvis Presley, and Pop-Pop dragged him into the men’s room and made him shave and tuck in his shirt before he would introduce him to the girl he called Krissy…short for Kristan, her last name. My parents went to see Ben-Hur that Friday night, and the next day, Mom went shopping for a wedding dress. They got engaged on Christmas Eve and married when they were 21. Pop-Pop knew what he was doing.
What I remember most about my grandfather is that he always smiled. Smiley Kylie, we called him. I was quite thrilled to have the same initials as he did. He called me Cricket and was always good for a piggyback ride or an extra dessert. He had a convertible, and he let us sit in the garage and push the button so the roof of the car would up and down, up and down. Sometimes he’d take us for a ride in it, and buy us an ice cream cone.
He had a way with animals; he tamed a raccoon and named it Bandit, and when she had kits, she brought those babies down from the big tree and put them all in a row by the back steps so Pop-Pop could see them. Squirrels would take peanuts from his hands, and dogs and cats loved him.
Kyle served in the South Pacific in World War II as a decoder of some kind. He never spoke about that. I didn’t even know it till after his death.
He had a heart attack when I was 18. I was about to leave to be a nanny in Maine for the summer, and I drove to the hospital to see him. He was on the mend, but he had an oxygen mask over his mouth and was having trouble speaking. He kept gesturing to the nurse until she gave him a notebook and pen. “My granddaughter,” he wrote in wobbly letters, and he underlined the words.
He died the next week.
On my bureau, I have Pop-Pop’s silver hair brush, engraved with his initials. I hope he knows how grateful I am to have had him, this perfect grandfather, a man who never raised his voice, who loved his son and his son’s children’s without reservation, who snuggled and told stories and talked to the animals.
We should all be so lucky.