Thursday, February 17, 2011

For Dad

Following is the eulogy written and delivered by my sister Mary at our Dad's funeral 2/14/2011.


It is fitting that Dad had so many names, since he gave out so many. If your name was Bill, he called you William or Willy; Lisa was Claudia Cardinale; Al was Alphonzo; Linda Corcoran was Harper’s Ferry. If you were Theresa, you became Terri; Terri became Theresa. If you were a guy and he liked you, you were Commander. After almost 60 years of marriage, it still drove my mother crazy. “Just call them by their real names!” she would say. He totally ignored her. I am sure this was the only instance in their marriage that this occurred . . . right, Mum? I think maybe he did this so when he called his kids the wrong names, we wouldn’t take it personally.

My earliest memories of my dad were how he would march all of us kids down to the nickel Pool. He was like the father Duck with his ducklings behind him . . . Lorrie, Linda, Mark, Annie, Mary, Janet, Carol . . . walking in a line with towels over our shoulders - only stopping for a dropped towel or broken flip flop. Or he’d march us down to the tracks over on Massasoit Street to wait for the train to go by. . . when it did, we would all wave and hoot & holler. I think he did this to give my mother a little bit of peace and quiet.

And way back then, there was singing . .. Always singing . . . except at the dinner table. “No elbows on the table.” “No singing at the table.” Those were the rules. Let me digress & say that my Dad said the fastest Grace on earth, whether in English or Latin, which we loved.
Back to the singing . . . Dad played his gorgeous guitar and we’d all sing: Bill Bailey won’t you please come home; Bicycle Built for Two; Irene Goodnight; Toot Toot Tootsie; Linda - When I go to sleep, I never count sheep, I count all the charms about Linda.

And then, there was the ukelele. Purchased with S&H Green Stamps about 45 years ago, it still sits in the canvas bag my mother made. It came out for every birthday - kids, grandkids, sons-in-law, nieces, nephews, other family members, and special friends. I don’t know how many messages I had on answering machines over the years with my parents singing along with whoever else happened to be at the house, and my dad playing Happy Birthday on the uke. I wish I had saved every one of those messages. For his 80th birthday, we all brought ukes and serenaded HIM for a change. We were no where near as good as he was, but he didn’t mind. He tried out every one of our ukes to make sure they were “satisfactory.”

We can never forget Dad singing with those Sullivan brothers: Bill - Willy, Jim - Seamus, and Dick - Richard. When those boys got together is was magic and there was lots of singing. As a result, all of the Sullivan kids have what my daughter calls the “Sullivan Curse.” Say just about any phrase and we can burst into a song with those words in it.

Music ran through my father’s veins. He loved it all, especially opera. He has an amazing Mozart collection, the official catalogue with his prized possessions highlighted in yellow. He loved Verdi and Donazetti, and the “Eenies” - Puccini, Rossini, and Bellini. He used to say he wanted to “See La Scala and die!” My parents traveled quite a bit after dad retired - to Germany, where my mother’s parents were born; to Austria, the land of Mozart; to Switzerland; and on many cruises. It took a while for them to get to Italy. When they finally visited Milan, La Scala was closed for renovations. My parents sat on a bench across from that famous, boarded up opera house and took in the view. But that was the closest he got. I told him, “Look on the bright side, dad. You don’t have to die yet.”

He loved Gilbert & Sullivan, Maria Callas, & “Lennie” Bernstein. But it wasn’t just opera that he loved. Django Reinhart, Marian McPartland, and Frances Albert Sinatra were among his favorites. And of course, the Bee Gees. Yes, the Bee Gees.

As he neared retirement, Sir Lawrence could be heard singing his theme song, “Ah, ah, ah, ah, Staying Alive, Staying Alive.” The only time he ever surprised my mother on the dance floor was at our friend Terri’s wedding when Staying Alive was played and Dad was out there showing off his disco moves.

'Staying Alive' was the perfect theme song for my dad. He had a good life, a wonderful wife, fantastic kids & grandkids (if I do say so myself), and marvelous friends and extended family . . . but is was never easy. He lost his father and sister at a young age. He had just about every type of ulcer there is; I remember we all went up to Waltham Hospital one time when he was in for a bleeding ulcer. Of course they couldn’t let all us kids into visit, so we stood outside and waved to him up in the window of his hospital room. At age 39, my dad had a retinal hemorrage. He could no longer work running the press at Buck Printing. He had just begun training to teach others how to run the presses. It wasn’t until I got older that I could truly comprehend how incredibly difficult this must have been on him and my mother. Imagine having seven kids, no job and limited vision. But his overabundance of tenacity pulled him through.

My dad was retrained as a court reporter and many of us kids became his proofreaders. I remember spending hours together in the cellar as he typed up transcripts and I read through them looking for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and spacing errors. Forever etched in my mind are the two words that most remind me of my dad . . . “However, Comma”.

After his retraining, my Dad went to work for the Industrial Accident Board, the state agency for workers compensation. He loved working with the insurance company attorneys . . .not so much the claimants’ attorneys. It was through his connections that first Carol and then I got our jobs at PCD&W, sending both of us down the legal career path. Dad’s favorite ALJ to work with was Roz Brooker. “Rosalyn” had polio as a child and walked with canes. They would joke about being the Dynamic Duo; the crippled judge and the blind stenographer. As you can imagine, any scam artist faking a worker’s comp claim got no sympathy from these two. One time, a man challenging the insurer’s abrupt ending of his wc payments appeared for a hearing wearing his Thomas Collar and using a cane. The Insurer’s attorney had the lights turned off as he showed a video of the man water skiing. When the lights went back on, the man was gone for the courtroom and his cane remained behind. “Look, Lawrence,” Roz exclaimed, “It’s a miracle! Let’s raise the cane to the rafters!” Dad loved that story.

Another of Dad’s favorite ALJs was Dottie “Dorothy” Antonelli, who was also a trustee at Suffolk Law School. Dad put in a good word for me with Dorothy when I applied to Suffolk. I’m sure that he helped me get accepted. Dad was so excited that I was going to be a lawyer. Right before I started at Suffolk, I went to the book store to purchase my books. Like an idiot, I bought - all at the same time- every required book plus all those that were recommended. I had three huge bags of books - I swear these plastic bags were partially made of steel. I made it the one block to back to PCDW & called my Dad. “Daddy, can you come help me carry my books home?” Of course, he did. We took the Express Bus to Carter St., then walked the mile or so home, past the Nickle Pool- only this time we didn’t stop for broken flip flops, we stopped every few blocks to put down the books and get back the circulation in our fingers that had been cut off by those steel bags!

Dad loved the law . . . and not just Rumpole of the Bailey. In his next life, I think Dad will be a lawyer. However comma, I’m sure by then he’ll just buy a Kindle and won’t have to worry about carrying law books home.

My Dad also loved the ocean. When we were young kids, the family went for two weeks every summer to Plum Island and stayed at Navassa, a wonderful old house right on the bay. At high tide, we’d swim happily in the bay. At low tide, when we weren’t building sand castles or digging for clams on the sand bar, we’d march over to the ocean side to swim. Dad & Uncle Dick taught us how to dive into the big waves before they crashed. If you didn’t do it correctly, there was always a hand to pluck you out as you tossed around in the surf. If you wouldn’t go in because the water was too cold or too rough, you were called “Chicken of the Sea.” Even though the ocean was often times too cold and too rough, no one wanted to be Chicken of the Sea. Dad gave us dolphin rides on his back and you had to hold your breath while holding on tight as he dove deep under the water.

For a while, my parents had a trailer at Brant Rock where they spent a lot of time in the summers. It never mattered how cold the water was - and it was freezing!- Dad would always get in the ocean. He would never be the Chick of the Sea.. He loved going to Aruba, where Uncle Dick had a time share. The Four Musketeers- Larry, Trudy, Dick & my mother’s sister Mary, would go every year the week after Thanksgiving. There they’d meet up with Uncle Billy & Elaine and have a ball. After Dick and Mary were gone, one or two of the kids with go with them. Even when the ocean was rough (one year Dad broke his collar bone in the waves), he made sure to get in the water, often with the help of “Larry’s Mermaids”. It revived his spirit and energized him- there he was free of all that ailed him. He was Free Willy.

Recently, Dad got to singing, “Open the Door Richard” - a song written in 1947, recorded by many artists over the years, including Count Basey. We think he was calling to his brother that he was ready. Richard, Seamus & Willy opened the door last Wednesday at high noon, and Law Law left his ever-ailing body. We will miss him terribly, but his spirit lives on in each of us.

Every night, before I went to bed, my Dad, thinking he was funny, would say, “Night Mare.”
Night, Dad. Love you madly. Period. Closed Quotes.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Is It Really February Already?

The groundhog says spring is on the way. Good thing, because I am back here at the mothership in Boston, and it looks like the north pole. Before I left the Gorge, it was winter. Here is the view from Panorama Point on a wintery walk early in January.

Here is the view of my parent's house. There have been 4 storm days since I got here 2 weeks ago. Another is due Saturday. I haven't seen snow piled this high since the Blizzard of 78.

I honestly don't know where January went. I figure I'd better post a few things so people don't think I went into a permanent funk after the Patriots lost to the Jets. My biggest excuse is that my 2.5 year old computer suffered a fatal seizure after Lloyd tried to upgrade my OS from Vista to Windows7. Thanks a bunch, Microsoft and HP. Had to wait for a new laptop. Lost my emails and address book, but fortunately I did back up my tunes, pix, and docs. I do not trust anything to work the way it should. Especially with Microsoft.

We had our New Year's Day ski on the Clark Creek Trail, the best snow there in a couple of years. Check the link for some great pictures. Unfortunately, it's rained ever since.

Alina came to visit for a week after a pit stop in Sugar Land to visit her old buddies, and had the pleasure of extensive father-daughter bonding when she and Lloyd went to pick up Conor at the airport. They got stuck for 4.5 hours behind a jack knifed big rig less than halfway to PDX, with no way to exit or reverse direction. Did I mention there was an ice storm in the Gorge at the time? The normally 2 hour round trip became an 8.5 hour odyssey, with their return at 2:30 am. Now anyone who knows me is aware that I am a terrible bad weather passenger. Knowing the forecast, I thoughtfully suggested (during a mother/daughter pedicure) that Alina might want to have a little one on one time with her dad as well. Little did I know, how long that one on one time would be!

We had a good week visiting breweries and brewpubs, including a fantastic tour of Full Sail in Hood River (highly recommended), and at the other end of the spectrum, Doug showed us where he creates the magic elixirs at Everybody's Brewing in White Salmon. Conor and Alina are home brewers, so we also stopped in to taste at Big Horse, Double Mountain, and Thirsty Woman Pub to check out potables not seen in Boston.

One late night, Lloyd, Alina and Conor brewed a batch of After Midnight Porter, now sitting in the secondary fermenter. They forgot to buy ice to cool the wort, and the sight of the three of them running outside to the last remaining snow piles was pretty funny.

The return trip to PDX was mercifully uneventful. We dropped them off and were back in White Salmon by 6 am, before the sun was even up. But my plans for the rest of January were scuttled when Mom fell and hurt her hip. I was able to reschedule my Alaska Air flight for little more than the $75 change fee, and headed to Boston on the 20th. More on that in the next post.