Thursday, July 26, 2018

End of an Era

Jack's standing in the sailor suit. Just look at that face!
My Uncle Jack died this week. He was the last surviving sibling of that generation of Berrigans, outliving his sister (my mom) and brothers Gerry and Don. This is hitting me hard. For one thing, he was an incredible person, and the world needs incredible people now more than ever. For another, it reminds me that I am older, now, than he was in most of my fondest memories. It is the end of an era, and the end of the next era is coming along at lightning speed.

I remember Mom telling us childhood stories about Jack. Little Jack was apparently the pickiest of eaters; when asked what he enjoyed consuming, he’d say “Bones and bananas!”
He was also something of a rascal. Agnes, the Irish girl who worked for the Berrigans, was always tut-tutting about young Jack and his exploits. She would be quite open about it: “Jack is a baaad, baaad, boy!” she would intone in her thick brogue. Even as a child, I was very curious about why, exactly, that little boy was considered “bad.” He sounded like fun.

Later, Jack enlisted in the Marines during the height of the Korean War. Mass casualties were happening daily. Jack made instant, close friends in boot camp. He stayed on at Quantico for an extra month for officers’ training. By the time Jack reached Korea, his best buds were all dead.

Jack fell in love with beautiful Betty Ann Doyle (a ringer for Mary Tyler Moore), and they were married. They had two children, Caryn Rose and Brian, lived in Larchmont, NY, and Jack commuted to Grand Central every day on a train. He and his brother Gerry ran Berrigan and Berrigan Insurance in Manhattan. Gerry was Mr. Inside; Jack was Mr. Outside in that partnership. Together, they were an amazing team.

Jack may not have been the tallest man on earth, but he had a towering personality, and an incredible sense of humor (read: sarcastic and a bit sardonic. I thought he was hysterical). He was the very definition of devotion: to his wife, to his kids, to my Grandma, who he adored.

One by one over the years, he lost his parents, siblings and wife. Jack kept going, but clearly a large part of his heart was in Heaven. And now, finally, he is reunited with them all.

But in my mind, Jack will always be my handsome and charming young uncle. He forever stands in Grandma’s living room, regaling us with hilarious stories about his day in the city, and about his larger-than-life father, Grandpa Berrigan, still the undisputed head of the family, many years after his death.

 It is early evening in Larchmont, and soft dusk is settling over the manicured suburban lawns. It is almost time to turn on the lights, but not quite yet. Even as a child, I don’t want these precious moments to end.

But I know that now, it’s time. Lamps on, at last, to light Jack’s way home.

Betty, Jack, Mom, Mo and me

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