I drove to the Memorial Service for my cousin Paul and as I sat in the pew, a fleeting thought came to me that maybe this could all be a dream within a dream. That somehow I’d awaken and there would be a new and much different reality with a much happier ending.
Paul and his brother Peter were two of my heroes when I was growing up and for Paul to have passed away is still unbelievable to me, as he was not well stricken in years.
One speaker told a story about my Aunt taking Paul to our family Doctor to figure out why he wasn’t speaking as a child. All one had to know to figure out what the problem was would be to spend some time in the company of his Mother and/or my Mother, as they talked non-stop and it could be difficult to get a word in edgewise. Especially as my Aunt was in a constant state of panic and a nervous wreck due to Paul not speaking.
The Doctor of the story was Dr. Ciafone of Huntington. He was a very reserved gentleman and a very caring Doctor.
My Aunt has told the story in my presence a hundred times so I know it by heart. Dr. Ciafone was both probing and speaking to Paul during his examination, telling him to try and say something. Out of the blue, Paul blurted out “Shut up and leave me alone, you big dummy!”
I have a sneaking suspicion that he picked up those words from his older brother Peter, who is never at a loss for words.
Peter was the leader of the group of neighborhood boys. When he and Paul were together, they were like “Spin and Marty”, only they could morph into a SWAT team at a moment’s notice. Paul was fearless and as a young boy I thought he was like a cross between Biggles and Lawrence of Arabia, with Steve Reeves thrown in for good measure.
One of Paul’s friends told me years ago that when an argument might just about to get out of hand and Peter was in the middle of it – a common occurrence - they kept their eyes on Paul. They knew if Paul were to jump into the fray to support his brother, it would be like Sherman’s march to the sea, with only slightly less devastation.
Paul was the one person I would seek out if I had a question about language, literature or most any other topic. When I was a kid and the only books that I was interested in reading were about history, adventure and war stories, Paul introduced me to “A Coney Island of the Mind” and to a whole different world.
The day I first met Thalia (the woman I would eventually marry) I knew right away that she was named after one of the seven Greek muses and I still remembered most of their names. I also knew that Tuesday Weld’s character was named Thalia in “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis”, but that kind of knowledge wouldn’t get me to first base on a first date unless we were playing Trivial Pursuit, especially since that series ended 10 years before she was born.
As I was going to see her again later that evening, I quickly telephoned Paul from my car on my way home (this being the pre-internet day and age) and asked what he knew about the muses so that I might use it as a topic of conversation. In several minutes he drilled down into about eight layers of Greek mythology and I quickly realized that this was not a worthy topic for me to bring up over dinner!
Paul was knowledgeable in so many different areas and though there were times when I thought I was pretty good and that I had “cracked it” in a worthy subject, when I spoke with him I knew that I was never, never, ever going to get to his level.
On one of my many visits to the U.K., I had my London friends take me to Dr. Samuel Johnson’s house, but I later found out that Paul had been there before me. I’d try and stump him about the Peloponnesian war, but that didn’t work. How about Sir Joshua Reynolds, Gaston de Foix or Marcus Agrippa? H.L. Mencken or P.G. Wodehouse or Sir Walter Scott? No dice, but it was fun trying!
I did stump him when I steered the conversation into Laurel and Hardy trivia, but I wouldn’t go so far to call it a Pyrrhic victory!
I never hesitated to continually seek his opinion, as he always listened and was never pompous or pretentious.
Paul was a real “man’s man”, tough as nails, and a very fine, clear spirit. I doubt there will be anyone like him again.