Observing National Grandparents Day: What Life Is Like Without Them

Remember to celebrate your grandmothers and grandfathers on Sept. 11—whether you knew them or not.

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It was a fourth-grade Catholic school project—the family tree. What I remember most are the eyes of my maternal great-grandfather in his only surviving picture. Deep-set, beady and said to be icy blue (though the photo is obviously black and white), they’ve stared back at me ever since.

Victor DelPiano was a gifted psychic. The seventh son of a seventh son, he had what tradition says is “the magic.” His eyes, which seemingly poke holes through your soul, saw what mortals couldn’t. He worked for the Philadelphia Police Department for 40-some years, and he never left his house. Investigators brought him details of a crime or a suspect, and he told them where they could find their man.

Never wrong, he was well paid for what had to be covert work at the turn of the last century. How well paid? He lost $80,000 in the 1929 stock market crash. Ironically, he didn’t see that coming.

He was easily my most interesting relative, but I never knew him. My maternal grandfather, Frank DelPiano, one of Victor’s sons, had a fatal heart attack at 58 when my mom was just 16. My dad’s father, Saverio Pirro, died when I was 8. But he’d returned to Italy after years in America as a private gardener on wealthy estates, mostly in Chestnut Hill.

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