My oldest sister met him when they were both in high school. He was a tall blond youngest son of Polish immigrants, a high school basketball star and in my sister's eyes "a real catch." Before they were married he joined our local police force, along with one of my brothers and other members of our extended clan.
Below is a collage of family photos I put together for the back cover of one of my early books—THE SOUTH ORANGE SONNETS—in which he appears twice, in his police uniform just below the right bottom corner of the photo of me and my dad and three older brothers, and to the far left of that on the edge of the collage in a bathing suit down the Jersey shore in the 1950s (Belmar for those who know the shore).
He also took over my father's home repair business as a second job, and before he did, which happened after I left home at eighteen, I worked with him throughout my high school years on the houses of what we considered "the rich people" in our Jersey town.
We had a problematic relationship, mostly because my father acted like he was not just another son but a favorite who wasn't playing jazz and writing poetry and generally not doing the kind of "work" work my father believed was necessary for stability and happiness.
But he was good to my father, giving him more attention and assistance than I did, taking him into his and my sister's home when dad got old and basically retired, and driving him to Florida for his annual winter week at the track there, and generally following "the ponies" up and down the East Coast depending on the season.
My brother-in-law lived in Florida with his second wife since his retirement, so I didn't see him much. But he was at my last brother to pass's funeral a couple of years ago. And he sang along with the old songs and suggested others, especially calling out for me to lead the lyrics (thinking I still had the kind of almost photographic memory I did as a kid) when he had our traditional clan after the funeral and repast several days' traveling party at various niece's homes near where their father had lived when he passed.
And the women who were new to our clan commented as they noticed him, "Who's he?" and "He's a handsome man" or even repeating my sister's comment when she first met him, "He's a hunk." He still had his ramrod straight posture and fit physique.
Any death is a kind of shock, even if wished for. The reality of a human life ending is so difficult for us humans to comprehend beyond the abstract or distant. A death in the family is even more difficult to understand, even the extended family. Even when they seem to pile up during certain periods, coming in twos and threes and more, depending on the size of the family.
I went to a lot of funerals when I was a boy because there were so many people in the clan and someone on some grandparent's side was always passing or grandparents themselves were, and the occasional younger person, usually in those days totally unexpected as doctor visits were rare and only when absolutely necessary.
But there's no way around the inevitable. Let's make the most of the pre-inevitable, remembering that in the end it's the family and friends we're connected to that matters most, the love we share and hopefully express as often as we can.
[PS: Here's the front over of that early book with a photo of me and five of my six siblings—the one before me had already passed as an infant. I'm the baby, and my sister who passed in the '80s and whose husband from then just passed, is the older girl in the family portrait. The younger girl and me are the only ones left in this photograph. Just another reason to embrace it all while we still can.]
[PS: The small printer used to publish the above edition of THE SOUTH ORANGE SONNETS in 1972 folded after several small editions sold out and were reprinted, but before I could get the photos back, which is why I posted the back cover instead of just scanning the photos. They're probably in a dump somewhere, rotting away.]