It has been two days since I got back from my trip to Rhode Island. I have gnawed my way through the loaf of Portuguese sweet bread, one of the three cans on Narragansett Beer, a quart of coffee milk and my New York System hot weenie meat sauce is simmering on the stove. It was quite a trip.
The reason I had not posted soon is due how emotionally overwhelming this trip was. This may actually take more than one post to cover everything about the trip; let me start with the reasons for the trip.
Originally, it was supposed to be John and I going home to show him off to family before he goes into the Navy tagged onto a reunion of the 1984 Warwick Vets High School Chorale Yugoslavian Tour. Then Julie happened, money got tight and I couldn’t afford to bring John. Then it looked as if I wouldn’t even be able to attend the reunion; as of two weeks ago; I was ready to throw in the towel.
Then Uncle Mike died.
Mike Kroian was the director of the Chorale but his influence went way beyond simply his hunching over a music stand and waving his arms at us. For the 9 years I was actively associated with the Chorale and since, Uncle Mike had taught me “life lessons”.
I showed up for his summer rehearsals having no idea what involvement with the Chorus and Chorale would mean for me. While I could carry a tune I could barely read music and had nothing near to level of ability those in the rest of the practice room had. However, Mike Kroian took me in.
All around me were people like me; artistic, expressive and, at one level or another, talented kids. They all called the director “Uncle Mike” as if it were a family. As I continued to attend rehearsals I heard a new language; the F-Wing Language. Strange words like “Zubar” and “Ah-Fa-Bo” were common place and I wanted to learn them all.
I’m always amazed that Paul McCartney can tell you the first words he said to John Lennon at the church fair where he met John Lennon. I don’t know how it happened but within days I was sharing a locker with Jay Kingston; a junior who would be an important part of my life for many years before a rift not unlike that which destroyed the Beatles.
In the midst of all this was Uncle Mike. Trying to sum up all of my experiences or finding the most poignant is like picking your favorite child. I remember when he was livid with me for oversleeping on the Yugoslavian tour and missing our first concert there. I remember the look in his eyes when he finally, in my senior year, let me join the Chorale even though my voice wasn’t really at its best. It was my last chance and he knew how hard I had worked each year and how much it meant to me. I remember a drive in his two seat MG. It was just him and me and he shared his own problems growing up with an illness and how he overcame it. With him it was polio and mine was asthma. I took his example as inspiration and it gave me the determination I would need later in life.
He took me places on this planet I never dreamed I would see. I stood with him at the tomb of David Ben Gurion and looked out onto the Negev desert. At the Diaspora Museum he talked about the Armenian Holocaust and I felt his ethnic pride. I danced beside him in a pub in Austria and heard him laugh with that beaming smile. Those and thousands of other memories; some good and some bad, because life isn’t always perfect, will stay with me forever. I can still feel his large hand resting on my shoulder. I can hear his voice booming at me for doing something wrong….again. I can hear his laughter. The excitement in his voice sharing a letter from college from alum, Mike Cheney. I can see those hands moving in front of me as the coerced a particular sound and intonation during a performance as if he could reach into me and mold it. I can also feel the last hug I got from him on a visit home 5 years ago.
That’s as best I can do to try to sum all of the emotions and memories I have of Uncle Mike. It’s inadequate, I know because those memories are a deeply rooted part of me. Those memories of all my time in F-Wing went into making me who I am today and I have no possible way of fathoming how different a person I would be if I had never met him.
In my next post I’ll talk about the funeral itself.