The Old Man and the Mountain

Posted: January 7, 2013 in Life, Mom, Music
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Before we left, we hugged Uncle Carlo goodbye – his breathing had taken on a rattle, and he coughed. He insisted he was on the mend, though.

Uncle Carlo: Don’t worry. I’m going to live to be 100!

As always, he was positive. In fact, he subscribed to positivity as sort of a lifestyle. He bought copies of The Power of Positive Thinking and kept them stacked by the door of his studio. He’d hand them out to all of his students – I think he even gave us more than one copy. I read it and I remember liking it, but it didn’t have much impact on me until later. I would pick up that book almost 20 years later and be kicked in the face by the wisdom in it. There is definitely a power in framing your thoughts in a positive way.

Whether you think positively or not, however, some things can’t be gotten around. Maybe only a couple days after we left, Uncle Carlo was back in the hospital with breathing issues. He was there for what felt like a protracted period of time – when you’re young, though, everything feels like a protracted period of time. Mom told me he asked for us, and wanted to go back up to see him. I didn’t want to. Memories of ICU were still fresh in my mind from my Grandfather. Uncle Carlo would survive, even thrive. I had never even seen the man sick. What was the point of visiting him in the hospital if he was going to be out in a couple of days? What I didn’t understand was that when you get to be nearly 90, a serious cold can turn into pneumonia. I glibly told Mom that Uncle Carlo would be fine, and I’d see him when he got out. I even advised her to stay at home. In the end, though, she went to see him alone and I stayed home with Grandma and Tim. Mom called from the Poconos to tell me he wasn’t doing well – fluid had started to fill his lungs and it was very serious. I think at that point, the reality started to dawn on me that I could lose him.

He died soon after. His deathbed conversation with Mom became the stuff of legend. I will never know what he did indeed say or what she made up in her mind. The story kept changing as the years went on. What started simply (“He said he loved us all and for you to keep up with your music”) became an epic, meandering discussion of Russ and the Mafia and the future. Sometimes events would happen, and later she would throw out a quote from that final conversation with Uncle Carlo – usually a quote I had never heard before. Once, when I was in discussions with publishers for my music, she said “Uncle Carlo told me before he died to never let them take any of your publishing rights.” He may have said that, I suppose, but considering I hadn’t written very much at that point I’ve always found the quote to be suspect. Several other things popped up over the years – “Carlo always told me…” or “Uncle Carlo said…” It always annoyed me that a man’s final words somehow turned into convoluted fantasy.

It wasn’t my first funeral – that distinction went to my Grandfather – but it was my first viewing. I really have mixed feelings about them, because one the one hand I think they’re horrific. The person you cared about is no longer there – you’re standing vigil over what amounts to a wax dummy and talking about how good they look. Bullshit. If they looked good, they’d still be alive. Anyway, Mom and I paid our respects. I stared down at his body – he looked stiff and lifeless. I still remember that his lips were slightly parted – something I assume the mortician had done in order to make him appear more lifelike. It didn’t work – to me, it just looked ghastly. Of course, I had nothing to compare it to but how I remembered him – and he looked nothing like that, of course. There were flowers everywhere – I saw elaborate arrangements as tall as I was. There was a lot of quiet talking and crying. I remember the room being packed with his students and friends – in that respect, it was a good sendoff. I think a lot of mourners are a hallmark of a life well lived.

I remember Gasper’s wife, Carmella,  coming up to me and taking my hand.

Carmella: You’re going to remember everything he taught you, right? You’re going to keep studying your music and teach other people what he taught you?

I nodded, and that seemed to pacify her. I guess in that way Uncle Carlo has attained a kind of immortality – I did continue my career and I do teach his techniques to others. I still regret not seeing him that last time, though, and it was the last time I have ever been cavalier about that sort of thing. A mere week ago, I was a little boy who thought people could live forever if they wanted to. Now I was older, and I knew different.

 

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