Grandpa – Our Wave Together

My grandfather - John Zapotocky 1918 - 2013
My grandfather – John Zapotocky 1918 – 2013


I didn’t write about this when it happened because it was too hard, and, to be honest, I’m not sure I’ll do any justice in the words I type now. There were too many emotions, images, and memories. Too much of me trying to recall the last time I saw him, heard his raspy voice, or felt the familiar stubs of his half fingers (results of an accident from back in his Dole Cannery days) pat my back when he gave me hug.

I didn’t write about it at all. Writing wasn’t on my mind. All I remember was getting off the phone with my mom, folding into my hands, and crying.

The long-standing and well-established Beach Boys surfing community of Waikiki Beach knew him as Zap, the white-haired paddle-board legend whose board, leash, and paddle were always waiting for him when he got to the beach at 6:00 a.m. To the tourists, he was a photo to take back as a memento. But outside of that, when he came home, to me he was Grandpa.

Growing up, he was all smiles and positivity. Everything had an up side, and whether I was going to school, doing homework, or working on something to which I was experiencing difficulty, he’d unfailingly tell me to go out into the world and “Zap” ‘em. “You’re a Zap, kid. You can do it.”

He would tell me bedtime stories, and when he didn’t know what would happen next, he would say, “..and the wind blew.” Hilarious. He had a certain way of cutting a papaya and a mango that only he could do, and he’d let you know it.

“Grandpa, I’ll do it.”

“Nah! You don’t know how to do it right…Look here, Levi. See this knife? This is the only knife like that in the whole world. No matter where you go, you’ll never find another knife like that. Never. It’s perfect….” I would nod my head and let him finish. When he was done, he’d look at me nodding and say, “That’ll be $35; I’ll put it on your tab. Now go sit down; I don’t want you to get credit for this. No one can do it like Grandpa.”

And so it was. At home watering the plants, “putzing” in the garage, raking the leaves, and especially, on the waves, no one could do it like Grandpa.

Making people smile

They knew him all over – the old-timer out there with the white-hair, the white swimming trunks, the guy everyone made way for.

I could go on – the tales, the laughs, the jokes, all the pieces of advice he gave me on living healthy as he cut himself extra slices of pie (because his first one was too small)…

And now he’s gone.

Up until my late twenties, I basked in the luck of my life to still have both sets of living grandparents. But when my paternal grandfather passed in ’04, that changed a bit. But this year took the other three.

And Grandpa, you were the last.

My time with him wasn’t long enough, and I wasn’t ready for him to go – but honestly, who’s ever ready to say good-bye like that?

In the last few years, I made a conscious effort to write him letters and call, all of which I know he appreciated. And just weeks ago, after realizing the length of time that had passed between letters, I sat down and wrote him a final one, one I still have folded and ready to send.

The reasons were various and ones I regret now. “I’ll do it tomorrow,” I would say to myself, or, “I really have to get this off. What if he passes before I get it to him? Nah, he’s still got tons of time left.” Another thought we love to believe.

When I got the phone call from Mom,  I went back in the bedroom where the letter was still there, on the nightstand. “Mom, I never sent it.” She assured me that he got it, although I can’t help wishing, pleading to a past self to drop in the mail. I thought about sharing that letter here, but perhaps it’s better to keep it folded, and for him alone.

Now I’m with her; I think he got it.

When I was young, the story goes, my grandfather would tease me saying that the shoes I was wearing were really his. “My shoes,” he would say. I would of course adamantly deny this, saying the same phrase back, with a bit more fervor. It was a tradition we kept coming back to up until the day he passed. And perhaps now, outside of seeing his face, hearing that raspy voice of his, or watching him nap in the middle of the day with his foot on the table and the television on, and his grand view of the Pacific Ocean, perhaps now the one thing I miss most is hearing him say those words to me.

Several days ago, my mom and the family flew back and scattered his ashes in the waters of the only spot on earth that made sense. He was blessed, honored, and sent on into the Beautiful Unknown in true and reverent Beach Boy style. The news was there of course; he wouldn’t have it any other way.

I couldn’t be there; life had different plans for me.

But if I could, I’d make sure he knew that just because he’s not coming back, I’m still adamant that they’re my shoes.

I love you, Grandpa

I love you, Grandpa. Thank you for our wave together.


6 thoughts on “Grandpa – Our Wave Together

  1. This is pretty touching, and I enjoyed reading this!! It made me think of my grandpa, who also happens to be a legend in my eyes, and I cant imagine life without is smug expressions and hilarious comments! I’m sorry for your loss… May his memory be forever imprinted in your mind… Honor him good! Good post my friend!

    1. Hennie – Thank you kindly for the comment. I’m thankful others are able to relate. It’s just a strange transition in life to go through. He is certainly a man I will honor. Much appreciated.

  2. This is a really beautiful tribute. I’m sorry for your loss. My only grandfather passed almost 14 years ago and I still think of him often. That’s always the way for the people who have helped shape your life and memories. Take care of yourself and know that he’ll always be with you!

    1. Mainely – thank you so much for the comments and for the good energy. I need it, as he took a lot of energy from this world with him. I’m just so grateful I had the time with him that I did. Thank you again. I’ll call you soon.

  3. What a beautiful story about your beloved grandpa, Levi. It made me cry. He was clearly very special and you’ve experienced a lot of loss. The guilt you feel about not posting the letter is so normal – it could have been absolutely anything though (not returning a phone call), there’s usually something to feel guilty about. Why is that? But it sounds like you were a very special grandson to him. And he sounds like a great character too.

    1. Sue – my thanks to you for the wonderful comment. I appreciate you reading. Yes, he was a fine man; but I know that he’s on his way to a new adventure to do more of the same. This was just a way to express that I missed him. Thank you so much for your words; very kind of you. Give your hubby and my godson a hug from us.

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