Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Mayor of Anderson Street

I have long appreciated and admired the larger-than-life nature of my father-in-law Joe. Margaret's pop is among my favorite humans and it has been exceedingly painful watching him struggle with the loss of his beloved "Suzy". In the aftermath of her death, he has been understandably subdued and more than a bit melancholic.

Last night, for just a little while the old Joe returned to the fore. He and I went together to an event that he had never attended before and that I had attended but one time in all of the years that his wife and my wife have worked at it: the St. Rocco Festa at St. Ann's Church in Raritan. Saint Rocco? Who the hell was Saint Rocco - the patron saint of collecting the vig? Regardless of the saint for whom the Festa is organized to honor (after all, it is hard to be a saint in the city - even when that that city is the sleepy little town of Raritan Boro), it is an annual event. And it is one that my Mom-in-law Sue, Sue's mom (Nanny) and Margaret worked at together for as long as my wife and I have been married as members of the 50/50 raffle crew.

Street fairs are not my cup of tea. If I want to see a cross-section of American life all crammed into one place, dressed in a dizzying array of outfits and eating food they should probably not be eating I will hang out in Penn Station for fifteen minutes. I suspect that Joe takes a similar view. Yet, last night, his daughter/my wife arranged for he and I to road trip together to check out this year's edition of the Festa. My suspicion is that Margaret wanted to make sure her dad ate dinner and since it was our 16th wedding anniversary and I left for work before she woke up and would have been asleep before she got home yesterday, wanted us to spend five minutes or so in each other's company in honor of that occurrence.

Joe and I had not even walked fifty feet into the Festa grounds when he began being approached by old friends and acquaintances. All of them were surprised to see him there but thrilled he was there. All of them greeted him with hugs, kisses and hearty handshakes and expressed their sympathies to him, again, over Suzy's death. And it was good to be there with him and to hear that big, booming, room-filling laugh that he laughs echoing through the area. We ate, we each had a beer and we spent about ninety minutes there, just taking it all in and enjoying ourselves. He enjoyed speaking with people with whom he may not have spoken at length in some time. And they never stopped coming. The entire time we were there he was greeted by old friends with whom he spoke and reminisced. It reminded me of what an outgoing, gregarious soul Joe is to watch him talking to, laughing with and (on at least one occasion) singing a bit with them.

And me? I enjoyed seeing him enjoy himself. His eyes have been filled with sadness these past two weeks, which while it is to be expected is nevertheless not easy to endure or to watch someone you love go through. For just a few hours last night, his eyes registered something else - something lighter, something joyous.

Dark moments no doubt lie ahead for Joe and for Margaret, Frank and the rest of the family. One does not easily bounce back from the type of loss they have suffered. But one does bounce back because one must. We honor the life and the memory of the one we loved and have lost by continuing to live our life.

And by making the geographically insignificant but symbolically significant journey from Middlesex to Raritan last night for the Festa - for the first time in his life - Joe not only pleased Margaret but he honored Sue. And for a man whose family is at the forefront of all he values and all he loves, knowing what he had accomplished made the ear-to-ear grin and the booming laughter easy to understand.

Baby steps to be sure but since life is a journey - and not a destination - ones that were important for him to take. And ones that most certainly brought a smile to the face of Suzy B. as well.


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