I think of my Uncle Larry and the first thing that comes to mind is a quote from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road,
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
He was one of the mad ones. He was a small person with a gargantuan personality and an even larger voice. I remember telling a friend, before entering a family function, “You’ll hear my Uncle Larry before you see him.” And it was true. I’ll never forget jokingly explaining to a boyfriend before a family reunion, “My Uncle Larry will probably be standing on a picnic table with a bullhorn.” NO JOKE, the man was standing on a picnic table WITH A BULLHORN hustling ice cream for raffle tickets. And he took that job very seriously.
It’s hard to imagine Larry gone. Where does all that energy go? The man was a bonafide force of nature, and the only time he wasn’t talking was when he was at a play. Which is the thing I’ll cherish most about him. On November 22, 1989, Uncle Larry took me to my first major musical and theater experience– Les Miserables– and anyone who knows me know that that was no small event. It changed my life. Uncle Larry may be the only person on the planet who has seen Les Mis more times than I have and who loved it as much. He loved all theater and all those old golden-age movies, but we shared a special connection with that one. A few years ago, he called me– so excited– because he had
found this old, French film adaptation of Les Miserables from 1934. It was about 100-hours long, but we watched it over a few sittings. And we both cried. And it was wonderful.
I think about this wonderful, energetic, LOUD person and, again, I can’t imagine him gone. He was the type of person you can’t imagine NOT being there. He always did the “opening ceremonies,” he broke the ice, he gave the eulogies, made the introductions, and so forth. I honestly thought that Larry would outlive all of us. He may have been 80, but he was one of those truly rare people for whom age really was just a number.
I’m ashamed to say I must’ve taken him for granted. For as generous and amazing as he was– my goodness– could he be irritating. The day before he died, he called me at work– at the busiest part of the day– to ask me could I please look up some information about a play he had just auditioned for called, “The Drowsy Chaperone.” I looked up some trivia and rushed him off the phone, he said he’d call me later. He didn’t. And now I wish he had.
The fact that he could be irritating was probably also one of the most endearing things about him. We’d be at a restaurant and he’d say, in a voice that perhaps on some martian planet was a whisper, “DO YOU SEE THE WART ON THAT WAITRESS’ FACE? WHY DON’T YOU THINK SHE HAS GOTTEN IT REMOVED? YOU’D THINK SHE’D HAVE HAD IT REMOVED BY NOW… ‘Oh, hello darling! We were just talking about your lovely face. I bet you have a thousand boyfriends. I’ll have the…”
And everyone at the table would release a sigh of relief, thinking, “That was a close one!” and somehow he would’ve segged seamlessly into his order, completely bowling the waitress over with his natural charm. He was a hoot.
Again, I can’t imagine him gone. He’s going to bound in here and finish this speech for me. He’s going to come up here and save me with something off the cuff that will have everyone slightly embarrassed and also laughing away their tears.
Speaking of tears, I know my Uncle Larry wants you to cry. I’m not going to tell you not to cry because he would want us all to move forward and celebrate his life. I’m pretty sure he would want us to celebrate his life, but he sure as heck wants us to cry! Can you imagine how offended he would be if we didn’t cry for him? So cry! But not for too long.
Spend the rest of your mourning telling all the hilarious stories about him, honor him by being a patron of the arts, particularly community theater. Every time you watch one of those old, black-and-white movies where the ladies have penciled-in eyebrows– think of him.
I will close by using the last few lines from Les Miserables, which is the translation of the words on Jean Valjean’s tombstone:
He sleeps. Although his fate was very strange, he lived. He died when he had no longer his angel. The thing came to pass simply, of itself, as the night comes when day is gone.
Wherever Larry is, I like to imagine my Aunt Gloria, Uncle Jimmy, and Grandma Marco are all hollering at him to hurry up so they can play cards already. And wherever Uncle Larry is, I’d like to think somebody gave him a bullhorn. Not that he would need it.