When the sad duty of cleaning my mother’s apartment arrived this summer, the usual assortment of treasures revealed themselves inside the dozens of saved envelopes, accordion files, boxes and canisters: Birth certificates. Baptismal certificates. Wedding photos. Report cards. Term papers. Hallmark cards — hundreds of them.
(No baseball cards, of course, because apparently even a mother who saved everything was not granted immunity from the universal rule of law that all Topps, Fleer and Donruss products must be trashed, discarded or given away upon a son’s 21st birthday.)
There was one box that overflowed, though.
“That,” my Aunt Noreen explained, “was her favorite box of all.”
Inside was … well, me. Thirty-five year-old articles from Tarmac, the student newspaper at Chaminade High, which allowed me the unique editorial license of killing the basketball coach (an early head start on a life’s vocation) for not better utilizing his roster.
(Specifically, the unique habits of a slow, unathletic small forward who made up for his lack of jumping ability with a distinct inability to shoot the ball, too. I wonder whatever became of this Vaccaro, anyway …)
There were stories from The Bona Venture, my college paper, including one that broke that the basketball coach was going to be fired (yes, I’m sensing a common theme here, too), a story I worked on with my pal Adrian Wojnarowski, so I like to think I was there in the room when the first “Woj Bomb” was invented.
(He didn’t get a co-byline. I was a senior. He was a sophomore. I was the one who had to start scheming for a job. So I big-footed him. I wonder whatever became of this Wojnarowski, anyway … )
And the rest? Every story, every sidebar, every column I have written since my first byline appeared in the Olean (N.Y.) Times-Herald on Oct. 16, 1989. Every one. My work in Fayetteville, Ark., and Middletown, N.Y.; my work in Kansas City and Newark, and, yes, every last word I ever wrote in The Post, too, up until around a year ago.
There it was. A life’s work. Carefully preserved in an old Bloomingdale’s gift box by a mother’s loving hand.
“She read every word, too,” Aunt Noreen said, and I know that was true because, though my mother wasn’t a sports fan, she delighted in the reality that I’d found a place in the world where I could write about what I loved.
At her funeral, my cousin, Brian, told a story about calling my mother when I first got the job at The Post. “Maybe,” he enthused, “he’ll be as famous as Mike Lupica some day!”
There was a deathly silence at that.
“I realized,” Brian laughed, “that to at least one loyal reader, you already were.”
These are the kinds of stories that sustain me, and nourish me, in this first holiday season since Mom passed in July. Though I was an only child, our extended family was remarkably large, and warm, and it was always her wish that it stay that way forever, that the loving bind of family always keep us close.
Life happens, though. Your 20s happen, and your 30s, and sometimes you find yourself in press boxes when you should be at weddings, in airports when you should be at christenings, in hotels rather than birthdays. I spent a lot of my 20s and 30s on the run, on the go. I missed a lot. I could’ve alienated a lot of my family. I’m lucky. They waited on me.
So today will be spent among so many cousins on my mother’s side. Christmas Eve has always been for the Vaccaro side, and will be again. Friday, I hope to be in the stands at Stony Brook’s LaValle Stadium watching my cousin, Dan Villari, try to quarterback his undefeated Plainedge High School Red Devils to the Long Island football championship.
Yes. Despite a terrible loss this summer, I still have so much to be thankful for, starting with that bountiful family, extending to this job that I cherish as much as ever, and to you, who keep reading, who keep interacting with me, who truly help make this the wonderous gig that it is. I hope you have as good a day this Thanksgiving as I know I will have.
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