Pop’s Dark Secret

Written by Thomas Riddell on March 15, 2011

I was raised and later adopted by my grandparents–Nan and Pop.

My “Pop” was the first person to show me the man in the moon.

When I was a very little boy, I had a long terrible bout with nightmares. Pop would rescue me from my bed, pick me up in his strong arms, and gently bounce me there.

My sobs were quickly chased away when he would stroll with me into the kitchen, point a finger up at that big, bright smiling face through our window and say, “See Tom? It’s the man in the moon!”

He built snow tunnels for me in our back yard, took me for sled rides and gave all of the neighborhood kids nickels for popsicles when he got off the bus from work.

As I got older, I learned from example how important it was to be responsible for my life. Pop never missed a day of work, except for when he developed stomach cancer in 1975.

He recovered from that in time to see me graduate from high school. One of the things he always stressed with me was to, “Get your diploma.”

Pop loved animals and they all loved him. Our family loved him dearly.

When I turned 18 years of age, after a fairly heated argument between Nan and Pop, my grandmother hit me with a bombshell. She told me, “Your grandfather had a dark past.”

With very little detail, Nan told me of how Pop had spent close to 30 years in Sing Sing Prison. She told me that he killed “one of his own kind,” and that was all she knew. She said he had once met Al Capone. She also made me promise not to ever mention any of what she told me to Pop because, “It would kill him if he knew you know about this.”

Pop died at the age of 85 in 1979 and I never told him what Nan had told me.

In 1991, I did some research and found the history of his crimes. While he lived in New York City in the early 1920s, he was indicted for the murder of a former room mate/bootlegger, but he was never convicted.

Still, he served close to 30 years in Sing Sing (for other crimes?) until he was released to a brand new life in 1948, when he met my grandmother.

If I now had five minutes with Pop, I would want to know all of the details of his crimes (the court details of which were sealed by a “family member” in 1975).

I’d want to know how he used a very bad period in his life to turn out to be the wonderful and kind man that he had become.

I would tell him, “Pop, you have nothing to be ashamed of. I love you more for overcoming your dark past. In the 55 years that I have now lived on this earth- there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about you.

“I saw the man in the moon the other night, and I smiled. I miss you.”