So about a month ago, I posted this piece. Well…T, my first cousin, my dad’s best friend, died this Monday.
Needless to say, that really sucks. We obviously didn’t get anywhere near 2 more years. My dad didn’t get to see him; his Covid shot wait time wasn’t up…it ran out on Tuesday, when he and my mom planned to go see T and his wife. The last time my dad saw his best friend in person was Christmas of 2019. I ache for my dad. And for my godfather, who is the oldest of T’s eleven brothers and sisters, and the closest to him in age. T’s wake is today…on my godfather’s birthday.
Today’s a pretty heavy day. So I thought I’d write some things about T; my memories of him, anyway. The Boy saw that I was sad and I’d actually started to cry in front of him (which I’ve done more in the past year than in his previous 12, I think). And he comforted me (he’s very wise and insightful and mature for 13…I’m really proud of the young man he’s become) by telling me his very limited impressions of T.
“T was happy all the time. And funny. And he liked everyone and was nice to everyone and everyone liked him back, I think. He was like G (our dog…haha!)…y’know…except not dumb (hahahahahaha!). He always made the fun choice. He probably lived as long as a person can when they always made the fun choice.”
T always did make the fun choice. Like…if it was celery sticks or a donut? T was taking the donut every time.
Lazily float around on a raft in the pool or swim laps? Raft! Duh. Also, probably with a squirt gun to ‘shoot’ the neighboring swimmers with.
The only time I ever saw T in anything other than gray sweatpants and a t-shirt and (untied) high top white athletic shoes was at weddings and funerals. He was just wholly disinterested in using appearance in any form as a way to make his impressions on people. That was not only stubbornly willful, and deliberately comfortable, but also sort of brave and rebellious if you ask me. I’m talking not even JEANS. Sweatpants. Sweatpants and untied shoes for family Christmas. And you know what? No one cared. That’s just T. His dress style (if you can even call it that) didn’t land with people at all; they were all looking inward at the shining, happy soul, and maybe, in a way, he was sort of forcing them to do that.
T always had a joke to crack and a smile to draw out. In fact, the only ‘bad’ thing anyone could say about T was that he had a relentless reputation as an incorrigible clown, and even though he was (like ME to a degree, really) honest to a fault, people often thought he was merrily dishonest as a joke. I don’t think that’s bad. I think it shows just how puckish and entertaining and hilarious T so naturally was. So I’m going to share a couple of those anecdotes that highlight this…and then I’m going to tell you the pieces of my fiction writing that T was a true inspiration for…and then I’m going to post a Scottish/Irish folk song that is steeped in centuries of history, but I can totally see T ‘signing off’ with to us. And then, I’m gonna go to a wake and cry cry with my huge, Catholic family for my first post-quarantine outing.
OK, these first two are not my actual memories; the first one is my dad’s; the second is my mom’s (and dad’s). I’ve just heard them repeatedly in my 42+ years of life as T Jokester Lore.
When my dad and T were in the 4th grade at Catholic school, the nuns gave them the business on a regular basis, accusing them of cheating, because they’d both get really high marks and often would miss the same 2 questions on a 40 question test and shit. They thought one of them was copying the other directly, or somehow they’d worked out a way to collaborate on tests, but really? It was probably just that they were that much alike. Except that T was obviously the class clown, and my dad was quiet and serious at school most of the time (gee…I’m not like him at all). So one day, the nuns administered a colorblindness test.
I don’t remember the exact numbers, and I of course don’t have a copy of the actual 1960ish textbook the nuns used to have the exact test, but according to my dad, if you had normal vision, you were supposed to see number 17, but if you were colorblind, you were supposed to see 42 or something. The kids were supposed to write down which number they saw. Everyone (including my dad) wrote 17. T wrote 42 (because he was legit colorblind; my paternal grandfather was also colorblind…maybe I’ll tell that story here sometime too, about Grampa and colorblindness, if I am still hard up for things to write). The nuns thought he was lying. Accused him of lying. Flipped 5 or 6 more circle pictures with dots in them, which he chose the colorblind number every time on…and then they finally believed him. <shrug>
Fast forward to when T and his wife and my parents were young adults and newlyweds. As my mom says, T and my dad had gone out together for a day at the horse race track and they’d indulged in too many beers. So Mom and R (T’s wife) had to drive out to pick them up…my mom drove my parents’ car out with R to get them (because even in the 1970s, my family may be a lot of loud, arguably obnoxious good-time-Johnnys, but they don’t drink and drive). Mom drove T and my Dad back in the same car, and R drove the car they had taken to the track to her mother’s or sister’s or friend’s (?…R had some social thing going on for real, she wasn’t pissed at T…seriously) from the track. So it’s Mom with Drunken Dad and T on the expressway home and T says from the back seat, ‘P? There’s a cop behind you. Watch your speed.’ Mom thought he was messing with her. Because he’s T. He does that. So she floored it. Only speeding ticket Mom ever got in her life. <shrug>
Now this one IS my memory of T. And it follows the theme. When I was a junior in high school, my mom had a Tupperware party (it’s the only one she’s ever had…any kind of direct sales, ‘have a party in your house’ kind of shit has never been my mom’s thing). All of T’s sisters and sisters-in-law (my cousins) and his mother (my aunt) and R (T’s wife) were there, in addition to a couple of my mom’s friends and her sisters. Who was NOT there was my pregnant cousin (T & R’s daughter) who had just graduated high school. It was early December and she was close to a due date, but not all the way there. Our phone rang. I answered it. It was T. He was uncharacteristically serious and slightly panicked and he said, ‘Is R there?!’ So I handed the phone off to her. SHE said, REALLY, ‘You’re lying.’ Three times. To whatever he was saying. And then she said, ‘Put F (my dad) on the phone,’ because all the men were at T’s house watching college basketball on TV or something during Tupperware time. All the men and T’s daughter, anyway. R said, ‘F, what is happening?’ And then she hung up and said she had to go because her daughter was in labor. Apparently, my dad said, ‘R? No shit. Baby is coming very soon. Please come home.’ <shrug>
Anyway, jester reputation, earned or not aside, T was a kind and generous, fun-loving man who enjoyed every part of his life. He loved his family. All of them. And there are a lot of us. He was married to R for 46 years, and supportive of his daughter who is in her mid-30s now and never got married (and doesn’t want to be), of his son, who didn’t marry until he was 40, and of his daughter (who I mentioned) who had a baby at 18. And of his grandchildren (one of whom…the one that came while we were having a Tupperware party) is now expecting his first great-grandchild. It sucks he couldn’t hang around long enough to see that, or to see his son’s next kid born.
T was a good man. He inspired some of my fiction (and he’ll either never know now or he DOES know now, depending on what really happens to us when we go). He’s one of the major character inspirations for Sam Herzog in the Building series. And also, at the close of that series, when Matt is speaking at the anniversary party for Alan and Jessica, he says, ‘…my mom and dad are the greatest two people in the history of the world.’ T really, truly said that at his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary party. And when he eulogized his own father a few years ago, he said his dad taught him to enjoy life as much as he could, and that you didn’t have to have a lot, but you should always share what you had. And when he eulogized his own mother a year later (traditional Catholic families, I just realized, tend to put a huge burden on the oldest son/child), he said she taught him to give of yourself to make hard times easier for other people, and that in turn would make the hard times easier on yourself. I think he really lived those lessons out loud every day of his life. I wasn’t super close to T; certainly not like my dad or even my mom, or his wife and children and siblings. But I’ll miss him. Here’s to T. Goodnight and joy be with you all.