Our daughters met some time in the early grades of the local public schools. Our wives belonged to the local Jewish congregation, and Richard and I took part in the congregation's activities as involved "fellow travelers," Richard embracing these, as he did so many things, with a whole and open heart.
One of the first things I learned when Anne and I began spending time with Nancy and him was that Richard would keep us entertained. He was a storyteller. Of growing up in his extended Italian family, he once told us of his grandfather's habit of exploring the distant corners of this vegetable garden and then deciding that his wife needed to climb down three flights of stairs to turn on the water for his garden hose. Richard demonstrated both the manner of these imperious padrone-like commands and his grandmother Francesca's infuriated obedience, huffing, puffing, and muttering all the way down the stairs.
Naturally Richard, being Richard, devised some way to rig up an extension so that Francesca could turn on the water for the garden hose without having to climb down and up those rickety old stairs.
Richard also told us about serving in Vietnam, recounting a stretch of nighttime sentry duty that would scare anybody to death, and of his efforts to persuade some of his underprivileged fellow draftees to go with him to the camp movies when they were screening a film that might show them something about life. Richard's decision to serve in armed forces had been a difficult one; this was a subject of considerable personal interest to me since I had done all I could to stay out of the army in those days.
In our own ways both of us got through that difficult era, found someone to love, became fathers. And as devoted daddies we both drew pleasure from sharing our interests with our daughters. At Richard's Memorial Service last week, his daughter Karen recalled the nightly sessions in which her father read to her all the way through "The Lord of the Rings" -- for what seemed like years. I prescribed the same medicine to both of our children. Sonya never seemed troubled by the length of the tale, though she felt profoundly betrayed by its imperfectly happy ending.
Thinking of Richard last week, I recalled some words from that book about the prospect of life "ending," shared by the wizard Gandalf to Pippin, the least thoughtful of the doughty Hobbits as the two face the prospect of death from the evil invading horde.
PIPPIN: I didn't think
it would end this way.
GANDALF: End? No, the journey
doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The
grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and
then you see it.
PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See
GANDALF: White shores, and
beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
PIPPIN: Well, that isn't so
GANDALF: No. No, it isn't.
So now I can envision Richard on another path, one we will all someday take, exploring "the white shores" and the "far green country."
Still, that's not quite the last word on the subject, because what we do in this world, on this path, however long or short our stay, matters.
In describing Richard to those who didn't know him, Anne and I point out that after he retired from the federal Health and Human Services department, he volunteered for a local human service that provided nighttime winter shelter for the homeless in Plymouth churches. Helping out here was not just a matter of writing a check, we told Anne's mother, but providing the supervision necessary to keep the program going.
"He stayed with them at night?" Anne's mother asked.
"Then he was a good man."
That seems to sum it up. Whether you heard it from his brothers, his co-workers, or some acquaintance whose car broke down, the bottom line was that Richard always helped people. He was a good man.