Getting to say a few words at my father in law’s funeral counts as one of the tremendous moments of my life. Today we officially said goodbye to as fine a fellow as you are like to meet. Below is the brief eulogy I gave:
Earl was one of the best back porch philosophers I’ve ever known. Whenever Earl and I would get really deep talking about time, reality, or what it means when bad things happen to good people, Earl would simply smile, take a swig from his gin and tonic, shrug and say, “Life is.”
I’m honored today to get to share some stories about my father in law. I’ve yet to meet a man who enjoyed serving his family more than Earl, nor anyone who could think and plot his way around a problem quite like him.
Life is work. And he never shied away from work even as a child. When his dad hurt his back in the shipyard, as a young boy Earl provided for his family by fixing up and selling bikes and running 2 paper routes. While others were playing little league, Earl sold his first car at the age of 14. One day, he would purchase his parents a house. Lesser men would have been broken by his difficult childhood. Not Earl. As an adult he was an excellent salesman because, with him, conversation was a joy. He could captivate an audience with stories about his colorful life in New Orleans, his service in the Marines, and during his days working for Union Carbide. And the man loved donuts.
Life is funny, and so was Earl. My first memory of Earl is from the year we met, about June of 2000. Four of us, Susan, her friend, my sister, and I drove to Stephanie’s wedding in Las Vegas. We’d been dating for 6 months and were in love. I teased and questioned Susan during the long drive from Austin about any possible mafia connections I should know about, what with her Dad being Italian and all. Of course, she denied them and rolled her eyes. About 8:00 am, I met Earl and Lorraine. We exchanged the typical pleasantries, and with absolutely no prompting at all, Earl proceeded to regale Bonnie and I with the story of a distant cousin, a Jazz musician who may or may not have had a meeting here years ago with a questionable group of Sicilian businessmen in one of the casinos. My sister and I were rolling in laughter. His charming Irish Channel accent and sideways smile was warm and endearing. With a glint in his eye he told my sister to not look in his trunk.
Life is love. Two years later, I remember sitting on a flower covered back porch in Vancouver Washington asking Earl’s permission to marry his daughter. It proved too much for him, he blushed and while hurrying into the kitchen to pour himself a drink said we can have that discussion later. His reaction mirrored Susan’s reaction when I tried to kiss her for the first time in her apartment during law school. Like father like daughter. We never did have that conversation, but Earl did ask that I help Susan take care of her car for him, change the oil, rotate the tires, etc. He still didn’t know me that well, I guess.
Life is serving. One of my absolute favorite times with Earl happened about two years ago when Earl and Lorraine came with me to New Orleans where I had an anesthesia conference. This particular morning I was free and Earl and I arose early and went to Morning Call for beignets. Several beignets. Anyways, we took a few for the road and began to tour the city. Driving past John McDonough high school, through the French Quarter, and out to Metairie he shared stories of his youth and young adulthood. And he told me a few stories I’m fairly sure he never told his daughters.
He slowed the car down in front of a tire store that was once a grocery store where his mother worked. He talked about how as a boy about Oliver’s age, he’d ride his bike every night to meet his mother as she came off work to make sure she had company and to help with any groceries she brought home. This was the Earl I knew. He was sharing his past with me, giving a part of himself from then, just like he’d given himself to me when he helped me with a project or important decision in my life. Like when he gave me Susan at our wedding.
Life is like a train. While we were sitting behind a street car, Earl told me he felt that life was like a train. At each stop, some people would get on your train and some would step off. This train ride of life is about relationships. Money, status, prestige–none of that matters. It is the people who matter. Like many others, I am better for having Earl Serio on my train of life.