I recently lost my Cousin Rick to a debilitating tumor that took away so much of who he was and what he was. Why my heartache is still fresh, I thought I'd reminisce about my times with him. Knowing this humble man was the pleasure of all who crossed paths with Rick. I don't think I was the only one who left his presence feeling special. He was always genuinely happy to see you.
Rick was six years older than me. He had two older brothers and one younger brother that was my age. They grew up in The Kirkmere Section of Youngstown, Ohio, about twenty minutes from our house in Struthers. Fortunately for me, our Dads were very close brothers and saw each other pretty frequently. usually at their house. That was sheer Heaven for me! Growing up with two older sisters was a drag compared to hanging out with four boys!
At least once every Summer, while growing up, I spent at least a month at my Cousins' house. My Cousin Ron and I were the same age and spent the Summer days getting into all kinds of mischief in the area. Because of the age difference, the older brothers weren't around much. When they were, some good-natured teasing ensued towards me with Rick usually being the ring leader. It actually made me feel special as a little guy, someone paying attention to me.
Rick would let me help him on his paper route and my reward would be a Popsicle at the corner grocery store. He bought a Lambretta Motor Scooter when he was sixteen and took me for rides around the block almost every time I asked. We all know how persistent a ten year old can be when they want something. Rick never told me to, "Take a Hike!" or "Get Lost!", as a teenager might be prone to do. He always had patience with me and he never had a mean streak towards anyone, even as a adolescent.
The late 60's found Rick in the Army in Viet Nam. God had more good things in store for him to do and brought home home safely. The only time I remember Rick being angry or upset was at a family gathering after his homecoming. Uncle Bob, Rick's Dad, told Rick he didn't fight in a REAL WAR like he did in World War II. That was enough to set Rick off in a tirade, rightly so, and telling his Father," Funny, they used REAL bullets!" I never forgot their argument and it spelled it out to me as a teenager how both side felt about the war. It was so unfair to the Vets.
Life and the years rolled by. All of us cousins moved on, had families, and many moved away from the Youngstown Area, including me. Cousin Rick stayed in Y-Town and found his true Calling as a teacher in the city schools. He became a very talented self-taught carpenter and used those skills in the Summer and weekends to supplement the family income. Many additions and decks in the area have his mark on them. He was the first to show up at my Father's house to build a first floor bathroom when my Dad became disabled.
Rick had married his beautiful blond high school Sweetheart. They raised three extremely attractive and talented children. Family members jokingly called them The Keatons, based on the 80's Sitcom, Family Ties, of an over-achieving funny family. Rick doted over his kids, as well he should have. He was the type of Father every man wishes he could have been.
I suppose I looked upon Cousin Rick as the big brother I never had. My experiences with older siblings and even some cousins for that matter, paled to how Rick always treated me and even stuck up for me, on occasion. I guess the best thing I can do to honor his memory is to be kinder and gentler to everyone I encounter.
Rick regularly read The Bible and practiced what it preached. He was never one to instill religious values upon anyone. However, he taught Bible Classes and counseled many young people on the difference between right and wrong. What a wonderful World we would have if we could all conduct our lives like Rick lead his life: Energetic, Loving, Honest, and Dedicated to Helping Others.