To Gene: In Loving Memory
This is a difficult topic to put words to as everything still feels so raw right now. But, today is my Godfather’s funeral and he deserves a post in his honor.
Gene was certainly my Godfather, yet he was so much more than that. He was my dad’s lifelong best friend; he was my mom’s confidant and support; he was a loving father; a loyal husband; an adoring Grandfather and a giving friend to many.
Gene was one of the greatest listeners I knew and someone who laughed with great freedom and abundance. My dad was one of the greatest story tellers I knew and someone who could perfectly time his jokes. They were the perfect pair like that.
And a pair they were. Gene and my dad have been best friends since elementary school. As little boys, they’d take to the hills of East San Jose and they’d go fishing and hunting. In high school, they would bring girls to the James Lick Observatory to look at the view and to attempt a make out session, with little success. In college, they were fraternity brothers and they got up to more trouble than good in the very best of ways. I gave the social side of college my all because of the raucous fireside stories we grew up listening to Gene, Dad and Mom laugh their way through. Post college, they each got married and lived in San Francisco and began families. My dad soon moved out of the city while Gene stayed. Even though adulthood inevitably crept into their lives, they remained foolish little boys together.
Moves and children and jobs never took an ounce of their strong bond away. They would still check in with each other, poke fun of each other and cry with each other. They had a history of leaving each other long, hilarious phone messages. My dad would find Gene’s messages so funny that he would put it on speaker for his office to listen or he’d replay it to us while we drove to Sunday mass.
They were enthralling and hilarious messages because Gene was a story teller. He was a poet. He was a connoisseur and appreciator of words. He could nail a well crafted joke. In actuality, he was a sports loving CPA and banking consultant living in San Francisco. However, in my mind, Gene will always be a cowboy poet.
Certainly, we loved growing up listening to Gene’s phone messages but what far surpassed that was Gene in person. Here is where the cowboy part of Gene comes in for me. Gene would come on all of our fishing trips. He was happiest in nature. He was one hell of a fly fisherman. But, one thing I always found so cool about him was that he would prefer to sleep outdoors under the stars. So even if we had rented a cabin, Gene would take to the deck in his sleeping bag, refusing the bed. He climbed Mount Shasta many times. When my mom turned 40, with four young kids at home, she climbed the mountain, with Gene cheering her up all 14, 180 feet.
When Gene became my Godfather at my baptism, when I was just a baby, he wrote up and framed a very official contract saying that he was to start a fly fishing fund for me to be given in completion on my 13 birthday. He was to totally equip me with fly fishing gear and to remain my fly fishing spiritual advisor.
One of the greatest and most memorable gifts I have ever received was shortly following my 13th birthday at the Bollibokka Club on the McCloud River. Gene gave me waders, boots, a fly fishing vest, a new reel and all the flies you could possibly need.
As much as I’d love to be as passionate of the sport of fly fishing as the rest of my family, I really have preferred a book by the side of the stream. So, why would such a gift be so wonderful? Because I can still picture the ear to ear grins on both Gene and my father’s faces. I can remember like yesterday their pride beaming on me, as my little bony body put on the oversized waders and massive wading boots and took to the stream with the two of them. It was one of those moments where I felt on top of the world, absolutely ensconced in their love.
And love, Gene did. My mom recently said that she didn’t know anyone who was as loved as Gene. I think it’s because he loved so much. I always felt so incredibly special around him. And it’s not until his passing that I’m realizing I wasn’t the only one. He had a way of making you believe you were the only one in the room, showing you how much he deeply cared for you, ever listening, laughing and encouraging.
When my dad passed away, Gene surely lost a large part of himself as well. But he never let us know it because he immediately stood in as the rock for all of us. He gave a beautiful, eloquent, touching eulogy that perfectly captured my dad. He took my mom for hikes and listened as she talked through her grief. He read my blog posts from the day I began writing and he would send me e-mails of support, recounting his favorite posts. He came to the hospital on the day Josie was born, which helped to mend my broken heart that my dad could not be there. If ever anything any of us needed, Gene would have dropped all to be there in a heartbeat. He wasn’t just my dad’s best friend, he was family through and through.
My last visit with Gene came at my mom’s 70th birthday party. He was weak from chemo and intense cancer treatment. I thought he’d won the awful fight and we were ready to put that dreadful C word to rest. He came to say goodbye to me as he was leaving the party. Then he began to walk to the car, ever the cowboy, he didn’t ask for assistance for the rather far walk. Remembering how hard it was for my dad to walk when he was that physically weak but how difficult it was for him to ask for help, I ran to Gene, grabbed his arm and assisted him to the car. He didn’t refuse the help as I think he also enjoyed the time with his Goddaughter and I loved the time with him. Little did I know that would be our last walk.
The keyboard is wet as I have fallen into another crying session. But, I know Gene is sending his love, support and helping me to walk as I work through the grief.
Gene, it was all too soon. Know you are massively loved and you will always be missed. Enjoy the humongous hugs, guttural laughs and Old Crow with my dad. Thank you for living up to your contract and for being the best damn fly fishing spiritual guide that ever lived. Can’t wait to get back on the stream to have a good fish, a healing cry and an abundant laugh in your honor.
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