I always thought I would have one last chance to say goodbye to my grandfather. For the past few years, I always imaged what I might say. Maybe it would be a final “thank you” or an “I love you.” In hindsight, I was naïve to think I would even have that privilege.

Well before the Covid-19 pandemic, Arthur Nicholas Kotsopoulos — or Papou, as my cousins, brothers and I referred to him in Greek — was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The disease, we found out, would not leave time for any pleasantries. When Papou entered his palliative care facility in Worcester, our family prepared itself for a phone call we knew would come but did not want to accept.

On April 4, 2022, that call finally came. At 92 years old, Papou had passed away in the early hours of the morning. How sad it was, I thought, for him to have died with hardly any recollection of the larger-than-life legacy he had built from scratch and planted on an island more than a hundred miles away from where he rested. After all, if Papou had painted a perfectly imperfect portrait of the American Dream, then Martha’s Vineyard was the canvas to his masterpiece.

In 1928, Papou’s American Dream began in Lowell, where he was born to a first-generation Greek American family stuck in the Great Depression. He was 14 years old when his father died. To help their mother feed a family of six, he and his brothers needed to find work wherever they could in the Merrimack Valley. His family was so poor, he’d tell us, that the snow on the porch of his family’s triple decker was used to keep meat and milk from expiring whenever they couldn’t pay the electric bill in the winter.

Summers on Martha’s Vineyard might as well have been a world away. He would tell us that, back then, owning a plot of land on an island, let alone a city, was the dream of a CEO, a doctor or a lawyer — all professions that required a college degree from a university. While Papou completed a few college courses, he never earned a college degree. His degree, he joked, came from Brockelman’s Markets ­— now Stop & Shop — where he worked day and night for 51 years, retiring as a manager.

Papou would not step foot on the Vineyard until he met my grandmother. Yia Yia, as we refer to her in Greek, had grown up as the daughter of a successful Worcester restaurant owner. Her childhood was much different from that of my grandfather’s. While my Papou spent his summers worried about where his next meal might come from, my Yia Yia spent her summers on Penacook avenue in Oak Bluffs.

Papou was tremendously proud of where he came from but was equally willing to sacrifice everything he had so his children could have the childhood he always wished he had. This meant three things: never letting his children go hungry, making sure each one had a college education and building a legacy they could all be proud of. For him, that legacy meant a family home on Martha’s Vineyard, just like the one his wife’s family had.

In the 1960s, Papou made his dream a reality when he purchased a small gingerbread home on Wayland avenue in Oak Bluffs. Then, after having paid off the mortgage of his home in Worcester and earning a respectable, but by no means lucrative, paycheck, he emptied his savings in the 1980s to buy another property on New York avenue, turning one home into two more.

These homes did not come without risk. But what Papou lacked in formal schooling he made up for in financial savvy, an impeccable work ethic and sheer grit. He grabbed the bull by the horns and expected his family to follow suit. Memorial Day and Columbus Day weekends were not time to sit around idly. Those weekends were for cleaning and starting the next project on the homes, which had endearingly adopted the nickname: The Project.

Fourth of July was an opportunity to pay off the new mortgage by renting the property, as was the week of Illumination Night and the Oak Bluffs Fireworks display.

It was hard to argue with the results. It took less than 20 years for him to pay off The Project. By the 1990s, the man who came from nothing had paid off all four of his children’s educations and was spending his July mornings strolling through East Chop. Those walks would almost certainly end with a one-dollar cup of coffee from Our Market right by the harbor. By the time he finished his cup, he was ready to walk back to Wayland avenue, where his 13 grandchildren were ready for him to make a plate and help prepare for the beach day ahead.

“Give the world your best, and the best will come back to you,” he never failed to remind us.

On April 4, Arthur Nicholas Kotsopoulos may have passed away without remembering much of his extraordinary life. That, without a doubt, will always be a hard pill to swallow. However, I think I speak for my family when I say that his legacy was too strong for Alzheimer’s to blemish. His legacy will live eternal on Martha’s Vineyard. Because of his huge heart, sweat and vision, the Island is the one place I know where I will never have to say goodbye to him.

Thank you, Papou, for giving the world your best. It really did come back to you.

Mike Kotsopoulos lives in Boston. He was a Gazette intern during the summer of 2016.