Christmas Memories of a Pretty Extraordinary Ordinary Guy

0 comments Posted on February 1, 2021

by Allia Zobel Nolan

When it’s Christmas time, I always think of my Pop-o. Of course, the memories are always bittersweet. But I wouldn’t trade them for a mint full of money.

Yes, my dad was my hero. But he’d irritate me to no end. He was the kind of guy who’d talk to a busy signal. It didn’t matter who you were—a secretary in a doctor’s office, the mail lady, an axe murderer—should he happen to be next to him in line at the drugstore.

He’d be terrified to get up in front of a crowd and give a speech. Yet, if he bumped into you on the steps of town hall, he’d perform like Chris Rock on the Jimmy Fallon show. He was a great kidder, my dad, a guy who spoke to anyone and everyone—whether he liked it or not. Most people liked it, though that took me a while to figure out.

For a long time, because his eyes were bad, I went with him everywhere. And, of course, when he’d start telling his stories, I’d get embarrassed, (try to) get him to stop, and rush him along.

Then I began to notice people’s reactions. Everyone my dad chatted up walked away from us sporting a smile. So far from bothering people, in his own way, he had done two things: made a connection, and given away a bit of good cheer. Indeed, this was how he let folks know Al Zobel was here, a little older perhaps, a little frailer definitely, but still with enough of what he called “his marbles” to make you laugh, or give you the scoop on a two-for-one sale of Turkey Hill ice cream. 

This pattern of reaching out with good cheer wasn’t developed overnight. My dad had it his whole life. But as time took away many of his other pleasures—working, driving, bowling, and walking three miles a day—he held on to this one joy tenaciously, perfecting it to almost an art form. I finally got smart, one day, and put two and two together. I can’t say as I never complained again when he’d tell the same story over and over. But, thank God, I developed tolerance. And as soon as I did, I began to enjoy the whole taking-dad-to-a-hundred-shops experience. 

I even went so far as to be Dad’s “straight man,” adding to the fun by moaning about being his patient, long-suffering daughter, out for another errand with her crazy Pop-o. This made folks howl. I started creating my own set of stories. At the supermarket, I’d tell folks how Dad was “just visiting” the food—not buying it; how he’d pick up an item, hand it to me to compare ounces and pounds and prices and labels, had me check and cross-check ingredients, hold it up to the light, then he’d retrieve it and put it back on the shelf. 

And when I’d ask him “Why?” He’d say, “We don’t need it.” 

Or I’d whine about having to take him from bank to bank to bank in an effort to get the best deals on certificates of deposit or one-ninth of a point more interest on an account that would make him a dollar or two. “You’d think he was managing Warren Buffet’s portfolio,” I’d quip, rolling my eyes up to heaven.

The guys at his men’s club gave Dad some fake business cards once. On them they had printed his name and the title: “Free, Unsolicited Advice Consultant.” He loved handing them out on our excursions and watching perfect strangers crack up.

It’s been twenty-five years since my dad succumbed to pneumonia. But I remember, even in his last days in the hospital, he was still communicating with good cheer, telling stories, trying to make doctors, nurses, blood technicians, even the cleaning lady’s day a little brighter for having come in his room. 

He was an extraordinary man who lived an ordinary life. Pre-Uber, he owned a cab and drove it through the streets of New York. And while he did, he listened to people, and then he talked to them. He shied away from negativity at all costs and touched as many people as he could with joy. He celebrated life by always being of good humor. 

Now my Pop never made a million dollars. And there was no Ph.D. after his name. Yet he was as much a success as if he’d been first man on the moon. That’s because he excelled at one thing that made his life and the life of all who met him better: He was an expert at connecting. 

Which segues me into my message: Though connecting during COVID is anything but easy, it’s not impossible. So don’t put it off. Truth is, if my Pop-o were here, I know he’d find a way. He’d send a card, make a phone call, (a risk-taker, he’d probably even try a zoom call), bake some anything-but- appetizing-looking cookies. And he’d probably ask me to drive him by a friend’s house, masked up, to drop them off.

Copyright © Allia Zobel Nolan, December, 2020

Allia Zobel Nolan, is the bestselling author of 150+ titles, including her latest children’s book, God Made Us Just Right, published by Kregel in February. Visit her at 

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