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🏚 My grandfather, Pasquale ‘Pat’ Castaldo, anytime after 1991, would ask me every single time I'd see him, if I lived anywhere near Walla Walla.

”Patrick,“ he'd start in, ”Walla Walla, Washington—you live near there?"

I was living in Olympia at the time—a little over five hours away on the other side of the state. The maroon 1974 Dodge Dart I had at the time would likely not make it over the mountain pass, so I never even considered it.

Also, what's in Walla Walla, anyway?

”I knew a guy in the navy from Walla Walla,” Grandpa would continue, ”and told him I'd look him up if I ever got out there. Never did, though.”

It's been 30 years since Grandpa, the man who made me breakfast every morning from middle school through high school (usually eggs and buttered toast, but either French Toast or Waffles on Fridays), began that story, repeated at minimum annually, often several times per visit.

And it's been almost twenty years since he's been gone.

My grandmother yelled up for help to my father, they still lived in a basement apartment underneath our house back east, my dad ran down, attempted CPR, but it didn't work. I was 3,162 miles away.

I remember not crying on the phone when my dad called me the next day. But over the last 20 years, I've teared up about it plenty.

”You should look him up if you're ever out there,” Pasquale would continue, but then, of course, never tell me the man's name or any other details.

It wasn't until this winter, on a several-day road-trip after Christmas, when we were trying to escape the doldrums of lockup during the pandemic that I finally got to walk the streets of Walla Walla. It was cold and there was a blanket of fog. The place felt haunted.

I like to imagine this house is where Grandpa's friend from the Navy lived. I like to think of him often, my eponym, and the kindest man I ever knew.

This time has us missing a lot of things from before; and in a weird twist of memory and introspection, I find myself missing Grandpa most of all.

A bunch of essays, photos and thoughts by Pat Castaldo.