It started simply enough, a little annoying pain near his stomach, put off at first, then finally a trip to the doctor. An examination, blood tests, X-rays, and then the awful news.
His wife became the transportation manager, driving all over creation for this test or that one, picking up the prescriptions, rushing out to the plumbing shop, grabbing some lunch at Santoro’s, then back up the hill to home, cell phone squeaking by on empty.
The older son helped out as much as he could on his days off, while the younger one totally put his life and ambitions aside to take over the restaurant.
They each in their own way have been kicked in the teeth, yet found the backbone to hang a hopeful smile on their face each day and soldier on toward the inevitable. Real courage more often than not is quiet and understated rather than some Hollywood version of John Wayne charging into a blazing machine-gun nest.
The last time I saw him, toward the end of March, we talked about our kids, our salad days, fast cars, the economy and how nice it was to just sit in the sun for a few moments and let the warm sink into our old bones.
He was in his mid-50s, but that day he could have passed for 70.
It eats you up in different ways. You go off and get peeved about some little absurdity in your life, then you suddenly think of his circumstance and are quickly snapped back into reality and feel a fool for missing the forest for the trees.
Gene would have none of that mushy stuff. When the plumbing pipes in the floor to the steam table corroded through a couple years ago he didn’t light a candle, he rented a jack hammer. That’s the kind of guy he was.
He may not be around anymore, yet I can’t help but think he’s just out back somewhere listening to a Muddy Waters tune, tinkering with his motorcycle and wearing that big old happy-face grin he always seemed to have.
Goodbye, old friend . . .
RICHARD J. TAFILAW is a Burbank resident.