I grew up in a very close family with one brother and three sisters. We always hung out together and stayed close, even after having our own families.
When the five of us married, we all moved within a half mile of each other and walking distance to Mom and Dad, who also hung out with us.
I'm one of the three older kids and we knew each other's mates from junior high and high school; all friends for a long time. We took our vacations together, we had card games, barbecues and all kinds of parties, and we were always a very tight-knit family. I have a lot of family memories, mostly funny and some not so funny. This one is a classic.
It was a beautiful spring morning in the mid-1980s. My daughter and two older sons were not at home. My husband, Vic, and our youngest son, Justin, were outside, building a new front stoop made of brick and cement.
Justin was not Vic's first choice to be his helper, but since the two older boys had baseball practice, he was stuck with the "runt of the litter." I was in our bedroom when the phone rang. I answered it around the same time Justin came in to use the bathroom.
My sister Rose was on the other end crying hysterically. When I asked what happened, she said her dog, T.J., died very suddenly that morning. I was in shock and wanted to know the details and couldn't understand why it happened. Everyone in the family had dogs; we're all dog lovers, so this was quite sad. I started to cry and between sobs, I asked if he died because he was so fat or was it his age? He seemed healthy, but you never know when death calls.
I had no clue my son was outside the doorway, listening. Well, Justin being all of 10 years old was, indeed, eavesdropping. He ran back outside as Vic was mixing another batch of cement and said, "Dad, Mom's crying! She's on the phone with Aunt Rose. I think Grandpa died!"
"What! Are you sure?" Vic asked him.
"Yeah, she said he was old and way too fat!"
My father was the oldest in the family and the only one who was overweight and had health issues.
"Oh, no, no," Vic said. "Hurry, get me more bricks. We have to finish this stoop NOW!"
About an hour later, as I was lying on the bed with a cold cloth on my eyes, Vic pops his head in the doorway and says, "Are you going to be all right?"
"I'm fine," I said. "I'm trying to get my swollen eyes back to normal. But I'm really sad."
"I know. Me, too," he said.
"Really?" I asked him.
"Of course," Vic said. "I loved him, too."
"You did?" I asked.
"Are you serious?" Vic said. "He was not only a good friend, he was like a father to me!"
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "What the hell are you talking about? Are you nuts? Rose and Fran's dog, T.J., died," I said.
"What? Oh, man, oh, God, that's good," Vic said. "Better than your father. Justin told me you were crying, and he thought he heard you say your father died."
"Are you kidding?" I asked. "You thought my father died and you waited this long to come in the house to console me, and you made the boy work when he thought he just lost his grandfather? What's wrong with you?"
Vic explained, "Well, we felt really bad, but we knew we had to hurry and get the stoop done as fast as we could. We had to get the bricks in before the cement dried. We knew everyone would be coming over to grieve together, and we needed a front stoop."
I thought, only a man would think that way, but I realized he was right.
Grandpa died 10 years later and we lost our mother 10 years after Dad. I miss them and think of them often.
Life goes by so, so fast, but having beautiful memories and so much love is a wonderful feeling.
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