There were only a few things I wanted to make sure I brought back to campus with me from my Thanksgiving break. All but one of them were electronic paraphernalia of some type. The other? A book. Not just any book though, a book that I hold near and dear to my heart, one that when I realized a few days before the trip that I hadn’t brought it down to begin with, I was very disappointed in myself.
The author? Arnold Ropeik, former Senior Editor of the Times of Trenton, a journalist for 50 years, a loving husband for nearly 60, a joyful father of 4. He also happens to be my grandfather.
“Poppy Arnie,” as we all so affectionately refer to him, wrote for The Times for most of his career, and a few years ago made a quip at a party we were all at, saying that while he had written well over 2,500 columns in his life, he had never published a book. His kids, my mother, aunt, and uncles, responded to that comment with a promise to help him do just that. Just a year or so later in 2005, with the help of all his kids, but specifically my uncle David Ropeik, Mosaic: Warmth, Wit, and Wisdom was published.
Mosaic is just what the title implies. A mosaic of columns that Poppy Arnie wrote over the course of his long career with The Times. The book includes articles he wrote on everything from family, fishing, and politics to his experiences as a member of the 45th Infantry Division in World War II. The columns embody the man I know was behind them; they tell the story of how he is the most loving, positive, and caring person I ever have or ever will meet. They talk about the good times, the bad times, the worst times. They tell stories of my grandmother (to whom he refers in all his columns as “dearly beloved” and nothing more), my mother, my sister, me. Whenever I read a column of his, I am reminded of of his uncanny ability to express himself through the written word. I’m reminded of the “warmth, wit, and wisdom” that my grandfather had and shared with everyone through this talent. The book is not about him. The columns were never about him. They were about the people who touched his life. The people who added to his mosaic. As always, Poppy Arnie really said it best himself, in the closing comments section of the book:
We are all the same really. We are all a mosaic, a portrait of the bits and pieces of our lives.
Fortunately, Poppy Arnie has had the opportunity to hang in there, despite nagging health problems over the course of the last decade. He’s had the opportunity to see his eldest son publish his own book, to see all his grandkids reach adolescence, to witness the turning of the millennium and the first African-American man being elected president. He lives in an Assisted Living Facility (my Gerontologist of a mother will call me out, as this is probably improper terminology) just minutes away from where he spent almost his whole life in West Trenton, New Jersey. Unfortunately, due to the distance and the busy schedule I haven’t had the opportunity to see him very often. It’s been since July of this year that I’ve seen Poppy Arnie, and each time I read a column in Mosaic, it becomes harder to grasp the thought of how long it will be before I get the chance to see his smiling face, to be greeted with the signature wet kiss on the cheek and big hug.
I don’t have nearly as great a way with words as my grandfather does. There are many ways he would have been able to write a post like this better than I did. There are so many small things that have gone through my head while I’m writing this that I wanted to include, but couldn’t find the right place to add them. But I’m trying my best. In this new day and age, where everything is accomplished while being “plugged in” in some way, I’ve realized that this site, this blog, these words, are my “Mosaic.” This is a mosaic of the bits and pieces of my life that are the most special to me, and after reading some of my grandfather’s words tonight, I realized just how big an impact his love for family, devotion to his craft, and all-around warmth have really touched me.
Each time I close my copy of Mosaic, I notice a note scrawled in shaky, post-seizure handwriting from Poppy Arnie to my mother. I think of the love he has had the opportunity to give to the world-not only to his wife, kids, grandkids, but to the readership of The Times. I can only hope, Poppy, that through my “Mosaic” here, and through my actions in life, I can touch even close to the amount of people you have.
I leave you with the eloquent words of my grandfather:
This has been a wonderful life. Every step of the way. I am quite proud of it.
I am too, Poppy. I am too.