William T. Picchioni with his granddaughter, Cienna, at his home...

William T. Picchioni with his granddaughter, Cienna, at his home in Rockville Centre. Credit: William T. Picchioni

I was driving along with my granddaughter securely strapped in the back seat. She was 7 at the time. She turns 13 in April.

“Grandpa?” she asked. “Yes, Cienna,” I responded. “Grandpa, what is your greatest regret?”

I try to find the correct word that fits my reaction. Stunned. Amazed. Taken aback. How could a 7-year-old ask a question so far beyond her years — a question adults often prefer not to contemplate. She asked this question in such a way that I knew that she knew the full and powerful meaning of regret — to rue the day of missed opportunities.

But I was ready for her, because I had been ruing one major regret for years. So, I told her: “Cienna, I absolutely regret not asking my grandpa all the questions I should have.”

My grandfather was born in Piacenza, Italy, 50 miles southeast of Milan. I never asked him what his life was like as a boy. Did he play soccer, have brothers and sisters, go to school, have a best friend? Why did he come to America and never go back? Apparently he was a young widower — a fact that I did not find out until I was in my 30s — and carried his toddler son, my father, to the coast of Italy and boarded a ship to America around 1924.

He came through Ellis Island. Did he know any English? How did he learn our language? Where did he go and with whom did he live? What kind of work did he do and when did he meet and marry the only woman I knew as my grandma? How did he become a master mason, accomplished enough to work on the construction of the Empire State Building — the edifice I call “my Grandpa’s building” — and when did he learn to make wine?

“There you have it, Cienna, my greatest regret. A thousand unasked questions,” I told her.

On Dec. 30, 2018, I began what I call “The Grandchildren Journals.” I am now close to finishing Journal #5. I have covered (perhaps) every possible topic they might wonder about: The Dodgers leaving Brooklyn and taking Duke Snider, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale with them. Age 7, moving from Brooklyn to Baldwin. Brookside Elementary School. The first graduating class of Baldwin Harbor Junior High. Pres. John F. Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963. Complete silence in the school. Our earth shaken.

And more: Jones Beach. Body surfing. Nunley’s amusement park. BHS Class of 1966. University of Notre Dame. The war in southeast Asia. The first draft lottery. ND Class of 1970. Meeting and marrying Marilyn, the lovely third-grade teacher who was also a New York Jets cheerleader.

Then children. First Jessica and then Matthew. Teaching high school English at Commack High School South and then Lynbrook High School. Grandchildren. Michael, followed by his brothers Jack and Connor. Sept. 11, 2001. Our world shaken.

Then Anneliese and Cienna, who asked the question and was my inspiration in beginning these journals. I hope they read them, always ask questions and may their regrets be few.

William T. Picchioni

Rockville Centre

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Updated 27 minutes ago Plane crash latest . . . Biden to address nation . . . Netanyahu speaks to Congress . . . Ocean Beach escape

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