Ed. note - super busy working late - hope you won't mind a rerun about one of the greatest men I ever knew!
For reasons that forever remained quite murky to me, my father and his brother were distant, only seeing each other at weddings and funerals, for the most part. We had three cousins, Jimmy, Jeff and Ann. Jimmy passed away a few years ago, Jeff lives in Dallas, and Ann is in Florida. We stay in touch as people do nowadays: emails, forwarded jokes and funny pictures, and now and again a phone call. We're nowhere near as close as I wish we were.
But last night I wrote to one of Ann's four kids that I had intended to write about what a great guy her father was. Ann married Bob when I was about to turn from awkward pre-teenager to awkward teenager. When she first brought him around to meet us, I had never met anyone like him. I still haven't.
I have for years endeavored to come up with an analogy as apt as what local humorist Ralph Reppert once coined when he described someone as being a "William Bendix sort of guy in a Ronald Colman sort of college." I tell people all the time that I am a Howard Stern sort of guy from a Martha Stewart sort of family, and that doesn't even sum it up adequately. The tone around our house at all times was quiet. Not a whole lot of self-expression going on. No one standing around in an undershirt hollering "Stellaaaaaaaaaaaaa!" No one named Stella, for that matter.
And then Ann brought Bob around. I figure if I was 13, he was 26, double my age but a thousand times more self-assured and outgoing than I had ever seen anyone be. Not that he was brash - never that. My parents loved him because he was so respectful and devoted to his family, and ours as well. It's just that he had done so many cool things! He walked from where he lived on the west side, to Memorial Stadium (northeast Balamer), and back home again one summer day just to sweat off enough weight to qualify for football. He had worked in a drugstore as a kid and demonstrated for us his ability to produce hollow scoops of ice cream at the behest of the store's tightwad owner. We all went over to Bob and Ann's first apartment in the middle of the winter and Bob was doing a ham on the grill. You see, he broke the norms! We had never conceived of firing up the grill with snow on the ground, but why not? And then he brought the ham into the kitchen, carved it up, and sat the great serving plate at his own place at the table, saying, "I've got mine; what are you all having?" You can just imagine how hilarious this was to a 13-year old. Hey, there's a 57-year old laughing about it now somewhere.
Bob worked at the General Motors plant in BallTEEmore, but not as an automaker. He was trained as an electrician, and maintained the assembly line itself. We took a trip to the GM plant to see them building cars, and there was Bob in his element - darting around with a toolbox, fixing this, repairing that, and interacting amiably with everyone. I promise you this: if you were the president of the United States or the Queen of England or the person scrubbing the toilet and wiping up oil spills at GM, Bob would treat you the same. No one was better than anyone else in Bob's world. He joked with everyone, loved his family, worked hard to do well, and influenced more people than he could ever have known. He was so devoted to the kids! He even coached Little League, but of course he had fun with the kids, never turning it into the Most Important Thing In The World, as do some folks. Hey - his methods worked. One of the boys he coached grew to be a big leaguer - Jeff Nelson.
There are people in the world who constantly say, "You know, you ought to.." or "If you really want to lose weight, here's what you have to do" or "As soon as you get home, call Steve and tell him you will drive everyone to the picnic on Sunday."
Then there was Bob, who lived his life fully to live his life to the fullest. A great deal of the self-confidence I developed as a teenager came directly from Bob's example of working hard, playing hard, and letting people take you as they find you. He'd punch me on the shoulder if he could only be here to hear me say this, but to know him was to love him, and you were lucky if you did. He was big league all the way.