(sad) Christmas in July…

Below I’m republishing a post that originally appeared in July of 2017… because it’s been five years and we still miss “Uncle Neil”…

The year Without A Santa Claus

As I sit down to write this, it’s 10:40 a.m. on a Sunday. Normally I’d be at Mass right now, sitting in the same pew as my wife’s uncle Neil, and his wife Gayle. They were with us on vacation in Florida July 1-8, along with a bunch of Neil’s relatives, and everyone rolled back into town late last Saturday night. After every Sunday Mass, all the family members in attendance always gather and talk for a bit, with Neil at the center of the conversation.

A week ago, it was just Neil, Gayle and me. We chatted for a bit, and said our “see you next week” goodbyes… Neil had a heart attack later that day, and passed away on Thursday. Yes, he was 78, and overweight, and had already had a heart attack and heart valve replacement several years ago… but I still feel like he was stolen away from us way too soon. That’s the way it always is with great folks, and he was a fantastic human being.

There are so many stories I could tell about “Real Deal Uncle Neil” as I called him, but to me the one that best epitomizes his character and caring is this: for nearly 40 years, Neil would dress up as Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, and spend several hours visiting the homes of dozens of relatives, friends and co-workers, spending a few minutes at each house talking to the kids that lived there, having them sing a Christmas song, reminding them to go to bed early, asking them to leave a snack for his reindeer… totally getting into playing the part of Santa Claus. Our house was one of the stops when our kids were younger, and I’ll never forget the look on our kids’ faces when “Santa” showed up and spoke with them. Pure magic.

Think about that for a bit. For 40 years, Neil sacrificed his Christmas Eve to make others happy. It was no fun riding around dressed up in a sweat-inducing Santa suit, with heavy boots and an itchy beard… but bringing some magic into the lives of others superseded that.

Here’s the thing – the Santa suit was just a prop. Honestly, Neil was the type of person that brought magic into the lives of others every day – kids and adults alike. He had the Irish “gift of gab” and never let the facts get in the way of a good story. He was comfortable talking to anyone and everyone, and always left you with a smile on your face.

In hindsight, as we look back at a few things Neil did on vacation that were a bit more sentimental than usual, we think he knew his time on earth was drawing to a close. We’ll miss him dearly. But I’ll also take solace in the words of Ray Bradbury, from his beautiful story about dying called “The Leave-Taking“:

Important thing is not the me that’s lying here, but the me that’s sitting on the edge of the bed looking back at me, and the me that’s downstairs cooking supper, or out in the garage under the car, or in the library reading. All the new parts, they count. I’m not really dying today. No person ever died that had a family. 
 

Love your Mom, KISS your Dad

About a month ago, Paul Stanley of the band KISS sent out this tweet:

Such a sweet sentiment from an unexpected source… this is the guy who wrote “Love Gun” right? The Twitterverse responded in kind(ness):

Never thought I’d get great life advice from a guy who wears kabuki makeup, spiked boots and spandex for a living, but there you have it.

Of course, there is a flip side to this sentimental record…

Today is my mom’s birthday. She would be 87… but she only made it to 33. This photo was taken in July of 1968. By November of that year, she was gone. That dapper young lad on the far left (striking the perfect JC Penney catalog pose, might I add) left plenty unsaid… and has zero memories to cherish.

I’m not trying to throw a pity party on my mom’s birthday. But I have plenty of friends who are dealing with the many challenges of having elderly parents – multiple meds, doctors appointments, surgeries, chemo, dementia, cleaning out decades of accumulated “stuff” from a home, paying the bills, assisted living, nursing home, hospice. I’m sure it can be a pain in the butt. If you’re in this situation and feeling the burden, please re-read Paul Stanley’s notes for a bit of perspective. Remember that you’re blessed. And it sure beats the alternative.

Tell your parents how much you’ll miss them when they’re gone. Tell them how much you love them and remind them of all the memories you cherish. What you do today will give you peace of mind and comfort tomorrow.

The guy who wrote “Strutter”

Lost & Found. But more Found than Lost.

My dearest daughter sent me this email recently:

She has 10 flatmates in her student housing at the University of Glasgow… that would double my current readership! So here goes….

Leah has been in college overseas for about 8 months now. During that time she has:

  • Lost her passport
  • Lost her Ohio ID
  • Lost her student ID
  • Lost the credit card tied to our account
  • Had her phone stolen

For Leah, those incidents have been aggravating. As a parent who is nearly 2,000 miles away (sorry, flatmates, I meant nearly 3,000 kilometers away), it’s super-frustrating.

But that’s all “stuff.” It can be replaced. It has been. What’s much more important is what she’s found during her “fresher” year of “uni.” (Man, these flatmates better appreciate how I’m adapting my vocabulary!)

She’s found friends. Ones who helped her with booking a hostel and a new flight when she had to stay a couple extra days in Krakow, Poland after she lost her passport there back in October.

Friends who made an American-style Thanksgiving feast when she was missing home in November.

Friends who will stay up until the wee hours to watch the Cincinnati team play in the Super Bowl… even though they think rugby is better.

Friends who invited her to their homes…. in London:

And in Derry:

She’s learned how to navigate unfamiliar cities in foreign countries.

St. Paddy’s Day… in Dublin!

She’s met people from all over the globe, and learned about different cultures.

She’s found that’s she’s capable of much more than she thought she was just 8 short months ago.

“Stuff” can be replaced. Experiences can’t.

Cheers!

0016: Licensed to Drive

Our “baby” boy got his driver’s license yesterday morning, and went to his school’s prom last night.

2008 CR-V with 200K miles… rollin’ in style!

Just like that, we went from one phase of life to another. From Parent Uber to keeping your phone unsilenced and on the nightstand. Better the devil you know…

He’ll turn 17 in a month, so he’s a bit late to the driving game (thanks pandemic!). I’m fine with that. My auto insurance premium was fine with that too. He’s a cautious driver, and he’s put in his hours, but those are no guarantee of safety. Far from it.

Our baby has a lot more freedom. My wife and I will get a few more gray hairs. That’s how the wheels of life turn… and you can’t slow them down.

15>2

15 is greater than 2.

No this isn’t a post about math. I’m not really wired that way.

I’m talking about college basketball. Over the past couple days we’ve seen why the NCAA College Basketball Tournament is the best sporting event in the United States. If you disagree, you’re wrong. The Super Bowl is way too much hype. The NBA Finals and the World Series are usually won by the teams with the fattest payroll. And the NHL? Well I don’t know much about hockey, but I imagine their finals are like the world’s worst ice fishing expedition.

Over the past couple days of March Madness® (that’s a trademarked term by the way… good thing I don’t make any money on this blog), lots of games went right down to the wire. Especially on Thursday. There were three overtime games. Two teams that were seeded #12 beat the teams that were seeded #5. Number 16 seed Georgia State went toe to toe with the top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs for about 30 minutes…. unfortunately for them, college basketball games are 40 minutes long.

But the cherry on top was when the scrappy Peacocks from Saint Peter’s University beat the blue-blooded Wildcats from the University of Kentucky. Saint Peter’s went into the game a 17.5-point underdog. but they kept fighting and kept scrapping and knocked off one of the most storied programs in college basketball, and a perennial powerhouse. The #15 seed was greater than #2.

In case you didn’t know it, St Peter’s University is in Jersey City, New Jersey. The city where I was born.

389 Liberty Avenue, Jersey City, NJ… a.k.a. “home”

It’s also the city where my dad’s family grew up. My Uncle John (my Dad’s older brother) was a graduate of Saint Peter’s (back when it was known as St. Peter’s College). And he loved basketball.

Uncle John also loved serving others, so he became a Jesuit priest and taught at a high school in the Philippines for most of his adult life. My dad didn’t go to Saint Peter’s but he was just as much of a staunch Catholic as my priestly uncle. (We jokingly referred to him as “Pope Herbert I.”) So during the college b-ball season, and especially when March Madness® rolled around, he loved rooting for the Catholic universities. He would have been happy over the past couple days: Gonzaga, Creighton, Notre Dame, St. Mary’s, Villanova and Saint Peter’s all advanced to the next round.

Uncle John officiated at my Dad’s wedding

Schools that pull off upsets in the NCAA tourney typically get a boost in college applications. Uncle John and “Pope Herb” would surely be thrilled that a small Jesuit university in their home city is getting some extra attention.

By the time the Saint Peter’s-Kentucky game ended it, it was close to midnight on St. Patrick’s Day. My dad passed away on March 18th twelve years ago. But I know he and my Uncle John are really happy that some scrappy kids from Jersey City — kids with the odds stacked against them — kept on fighting and came out on top.

In fact, I’m sure both of them are high-fiving the original St. Peter right now!

Update: St. Peter’s beat Murray State on 3/19 to advance to the Sweet 16, only the 3rd #15 seed to make it that far in the history of the tourney, and the most unlikely one.

This is far and away the most unlikely Sweet 16 entrant in the history of the NCAA tournament.

Joe Lunardi

This article from Yahoo! Sports captures the euphoria.

“Now all you have to say is St. Peter’s University and everybody knows what you’re talking about. Our basketball team put us on the map.”

Brooke Boutchie, a St. Peter’s student and defender on the women’s soccer team.

It’s a Family Affair

My niece Julia got married this past Friday, in her hometown of Brooklyn.

It was a lovely wedding ceremony, and a beautiful reception. (Also a rockin’ reception… I danced more at Julia’s shindig than I did at my own wedding… actually I think I danced more than I had in my entire life, cumulatively.)

But the highlight of the trip was catching up with the whole Morris family:

And meeting Julia’s husband, Tommy:

But it isn’t just the union of Julia and Tommy, it’s the union of the two families:

Julia’s from Brooklyn. Tommy’s from Washington. That’s about as bi-coastal as you can get. It’s not like the two families will become instant “besties”… but now they’re inextricably linked.

I know the Morris crew is good people. And after meeting many members of the Thorpe clan, I could tell that they’re good people too.

We tend to think about a wedding as “from this day forward” but the truth is the building blocks started decades ago. And I know this marriage has a super-strong foundation. One that Julia and Tommy will carry with them back to South Carolina, as they build their life together.

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