Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Godfather

Today should be my godfather's birthday.

He died six years ago, and I think about him every day. So today I'll paint a word portrait of him.

He would be 74. Nearly 16 years my senior, he was a sophomore in high school when my mom -- his sister -- asked him to be my godfather. That meant a great deal to him and helped cement our bond.

He bought me my first Beatle record (Love Me Do/PS I Love You) before the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. How do you thank someone for giving you the soundtrack to your life?

He could make me laugh harder than anybody, before or since. I believe to this day he had magic in his soul, because of all the imagination and fun he brought with him.

He served in Vietnam for two years. I loved getting letters from him and looked forward to seeing his handwritten "FREE" in the upper right corner instead of a stamp.

When he was in country, he enjoyed getting tapes from me. My grandmother bought a reel-to-reel tape recorder so he could hear our voices. But most of the family was tongue-tied, whereas I was a naturally blabby young thing. He still remembers how I updated him on Batman and Robin TV show or my school lessons. One of his fellow soldiers christened me "The Magpie."

When he came home from Vietnam, I brought him to school for "show and tell." I still remember him sitting on the window sill of my third grade classroom, in his uniform, answering my teacher's questions about teamwork. I was so proud!

Upon his return from Vietnam, he put what money he had in real estate. By going in with an investment group for a building on Chicago's Michigan Avenue, he became a millionaire. That showed such his exceptionally good money sense, even though he only had a high school education.

When I moved out on my own, he taught me about money. I know I probably rolled my eyes a lot when he took me to get a new stereo and pay for it on time so I could build a good credit rating. Not the sexiest of topics, you know. But now that I'm older and wiser with a 700+ FICO score and a good mortgage, I'm grateful he shared his wisdom.

A naturally gifted athlete, he tried to teach me to ski. That didn't go so well. He also ran marathons all over the country. He gave me the t-shirts.

He loved cats. He named his first cat Dumbo because of its ears. His last cat was a very chill gray and white striped cat named Bennie. She was his constant companion during his illness and I like thinking that she's back by his side now.

He died from Parkinson's when he was only 69. That's the double-edged sword in all of this. For while I take tremendous comfort in knowing he's no longer suffering, I am forever angry that his service in Vietnam exposed him to the Agent Orange that exacerbated the condition ... and yet the Bush-era VA refused him treatment upon his diagnosis because he made too much money.

Think about that: No one from the military asked him how much money he had when they drafted him, did they? Then they sent to the jungle where he was exposed to what would kill him, and denied him assistance until he was so ill he was unable to work and had gone through his assets.

And while I'm being political ... Toward the end of his life he struggled mightily with Parkinson's. He was so ashamed of the twitches and tremors, so certain that assholes were making fun of him.

So if you think this is worthy of applause, yes, you are deplorable.

Serge Kovaleski suffers from arthrogryposis. This disease attacks the joints. For Mr. Kovaleski to wake up every day and go to work for The Washington Post is worthy of our celebration, not Mr. Trump's scorn. One can criticize his reporting, certainly, but not mock his condition.

Compassion and respect for people like Serge Kovaleski. That's also part of my uncle's lasting gift to me.


  1. I love the relationship you had with him and how it shapes your relationships with your niece and nephew.

  2. A beautiful post. One of my dearest friends has Parkinson's and just got the implants in her head that are attached to a pacemaker. It is working for her, but I was never embarrassed to be out in public with her. I clicked over to your link about Bennie. Another beautiful post. And though I am voting for Mr. Trump, I do think what he did that time was deplorable.


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