Friday, January 22, 2010


I sit alone as a flood of memories parades through my head.

I am remembering the black and white photos from when we were kids. I can picture the one of you standing beside your father smirking as he is holding up a Topo Gigio doll with its head turned backwards, so it ‘s erect tail looks like something else.

We were both the youngest sons of our parents, only a few months apart in age. On the one hand, this produced an unspoken rivalry. On the other hand, we were friends and playmates. Though you were one grade ahead of me, we went through much of life together: catechism classes, first communion, etc. Our families were always together, whether at work in the mushroom houses or spending leisurely evenings socializing at home.

I vividly remember when your family would come over. Instead of knocking, your father would call out “Permesso!” in a loud voice as he walked through our front door without a moment’s hesitation. At other times he would simply yell out my dad’s name in the Genovese dialect, “Menegu!”, and my dad would yell back “Avanti!” Our parents would gather around the table for coffee or dessert, together with Uncle Joe and Aunt Josephine and others, having a grand old time talking about who-knows-what while we played together. Though sometimes we fought, we were best of buddies.

In middle school and junior high years we started drifting apart. You had a different and wider circle of friends. But as we got into our junior and senior years we started having a lot more in common. We spent weekends and summers engaged in back-breaking but dependable employment at the mushroom houses, which provided income to save for future endeavors and pocket money for going to the movies or hopping in the car and taking a day-trip lark to Ocean City.

I am not sure I remember exactly how it happened, but I think it was in part due to your encouragement that I worked up the nerve to ask Susan to the prom. That ended up working out pretty well for me. Thanks.

As far as I can remember, you were an average student in high school. I, on the other hand, had turned into a bit of a geek. But whatever academic limitations you may have had, you were determined to make something of yourself. You worked hard and put yourself through college. You got a degree in a field that interested you and then went on to get a job that you enjoyed and excelled in. I can’t remember if it was at this point or later that you shed the diminutive name “Joey” and insisted on being called “Joe”.

We both got married right out of college and were best men in each other’s weddings. The camaraderie continued as we compared notes and started raising families. It saddened me deeply when your first marriage suddenly dissolved. I remember that it also cost you your job and for a short while you moved back to your parents’ house in Rising Sun. Life was falling apart. I remember the talks we had, and how God had mercy on you as you turned your life over to Him. He blessed you with a new bride, Gina, who had been your dear friend in high school, and you were able to start life over again. And true to form as you started a new career, you worked hard and made a name for yourself. I am not sure I ever told you, but I was proud of you.

As we got older, we compared notes as we went through other rites of passage together. Our children grew and went to college. Our eldest children got married and gave us our first respective grandsons. Life was good. We probably only had occasion to speak to each other three or four times a year, but it was great to catch up. We also compared notes when life was not so good, such as when our fathers passed away, or when we both suffered serious illnesses that subjected us to prolonged and complicated surgeries. But we both pulled through!

Not this time, though. All of the sudden, you are gone. I am not sure what to do with myself. At times I feel an irrational guilt because I am here and alive and you are not. But then I remember that this life pales in comparison to what you are experiencing now. This is the blessed hope that I have to look forward to. But in the meantime, I will miss you, Joe.

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