My cousin Charlie passed away last Friday, catching us all somewhat by surprise.
Our history with Charlie – for everyone other than my mom – was regretfully not that long.
I couldn’t have been any older than 12 when my mom came home one day and announced that she had bumped into her long-lost cousin while food shopping at Waldbaum’s. (Keep in mind this was before email and cell phones.) It was a weekday and she invited him for dinner. My aunt drove in from New Jersey, and my grandma came over too. It was a reunion and they were thrilled to have him back in their lives.
Charlie needed money, so he began cleaning and doing odd jobs around our house. His presence quickly became a familiar one, if not also a bit comical. Even at a young age, we were aware of how vastly different and cool Charlie was. He was my blue-collar kid cousin, though he was twice my age.
Charlie was a burly guy with tightly wound curls, bushy eyebrows and an infectious smile. He donned a true Brooklyn accent and thick gold chains. While doing work around the house, he often had visible “butt crack” which my brother and I found absolutely hysterical. He’d clean my mom out of food faster than me and my brother and our friends could. Charlie taught me what a boiler maker was (the kind you chug) when I was a freshman in high school.
And then he moved away.
In the 90′s Charlie headed west to Las Vegas where things were cheaper and he had his mom to look after. His mom Lilly lived to be 100 years old! Charlie, Lily in Vegas Newspaper
Charlie’s absence was definitely felt, but his name was popular in our house and he called to speak to my folks often. As I became older I observed a relationship between him and my dad that warmed my heart. They were friends but my dad also assumed the role of life coach, relationship therapist and parent to Charlie. My brother and I often joked that my dad got great pleasure from this, and he did.
There are so many wonderful memories with Charlie, nearly all of them make me smile and laugh. Like the time my dad was in Vegas for a trade show. He invited Charlie and told him to dress casually. What did Charlie show up in? A baby blue tuxedo! As if you don’t naturally notice a beefy man in a blue tuxedo, my dad recalls the commotion he made – while navigating the booths in search of him – with equal parts affection and embarrassment.
And then there was the final time I saw him in Vegas last year. My close friend Lauren tagged along on that family trip and the night we met up with Charlie he came on to her. Charlie told Lauren he was looking for a roommate and gave her his card, below. It was hysterical and harmless, but of course my dad directed (or tried anyway) Charlie’s attention some place else.
I think Charlie looked at me a bit differently after I became a mom. But that’s ok. I’m pleased he got to meet and shower my son with kisses, even if all Mylo wanted to do was grab hold of Charlie’s eyebrows.
Cousin Charlie was my crazy Uncle Eddie (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation). I’m told there’s one in every family, but I also know that Charlie was one of a kind. I’m so glad my mom found him and shared him with us. He will be missed.