Posted tagged ‘deceased friends’

Remembering Vinnie Ressa

April 20, 2011

The two year anniversary of Vinnie Ressa’s death just passed; doesn’t really seem like it was that long ago.  But I’m 60 years old, so I guess time does not pay much attention to whether you’re watching or not.  My Wife Susie and I were travelling when Vinnie died, so I missed the Wake and Funeral.  When I got home, there were several messages on my machine and emails to break the news.  I was sorry to have missed attending all the services.  Not only did I feel I should have been there, but I heard later that many people came who I would have liked to have seen.  Sometimes unhappy circumstances make for some really nice reconnecting.  I’m sure that was the case with Vinnie’s services.  He touched a lot of people.

 I particularly would have liked to see Vinnie’s family who, over the course of many years, always made me feel like family, too.  I love his Mom and Dad; two wonderful people.  I was asked to join them for Easter many years ago, and it was my first Italian Holiday meal. My folks had split up and being an only child, I was often alone on Holidays.  I was very grateful for the invitation and looking forward to the meal. A huge platter of homemade raviolis was brought out, and I ate like a caged animal. I noticed everyone else taking small portions, and I exclaimed “You call yourselves Italian? You’re hardly eating anything.” The Ressa family just smiled at me and winked at each other.  Being sharp as a marble, I did not catch on.  But soon enough, I realized an Italian Easter dinner has about a thousand courses.  The food just kept coming out; a turkey, a ham, more pasta, an antipasto.  Being a team player and a dyed-in-the-wool gourmand, I partook in every course, but the first course had pretty much done me in. I’ll never forget that meal, and how much I felt as if I was with my family.

Vinnie and I got to know each other in Weber, before I went away to Prep school. But we did not get friendly until I returned to public school at Schreiber, midway through junior year.  We hung in the same crowd all through Schreiber and remained friendly throughout and after college. But it was after college, during the five years I lived in Port before moving to Manhattan, Vinnie and I really became good friends.

I had returned from Florida to run my Father’s wine business because he had had heart problems.  Because of this, I was financially a little ahead of most of my friends and the first to have my own apartment. Seeing as most of my buddies were still living with their folks, my pad turned into the second coming of Pee Wee’s Playhouse.  There were always people coming at all hours, girls and guys, and Vinnie was a regular.  I used to cook a lot in those days, always cooking in quantity intending to fill the freezer. But little of the food ever got frozen.  I fed whoever came by at suppertime.  Hanging out at my place was the usual prelude to going out at night.  Vinnie used to call before he came, although he didn’t have to.   I remember one night I’d just gotten in from work in the City and the phone rang.  I answered, and it was Vinnie.

“Jud, where are you?” Vince inquired.  This was before the cell phone era, he had called my home telephone and I had answered.

“Vince, you called my house and I picked up.” I replied. “Where would you suppose I might be?”

“Oh yeah, right” Vinnie answered and then clammed up. It was not uncommon for Vinnie to call me and after the perfunctory greetings, say nothing.  I realize that conversation is not necessary if you’re comfortable with a friend’s company in person, but I’ve never understood extended silences on the telephone.  But Vinnie seemed to have no problems with it, so I brought it to a close.

“Vince, come on over if you want. I made a beef stew.” And I hung up.

Another evening I’d just gotten home and Vinnie’s huge old red car pulled up. He came up and I was just ready to eat so I made another plate.  As we’re eating, Vinnie showed me a paperback he was reading.  I still remember the name, a book called Shardik.  This book was around five inches thick and Vinnie was on around page 10.

“Jud, I’m reading this book and it is really pretty cool. It has all these animals in it; bears, eagles, lions, you name it. But there is one animal I’ve never heard of. It’s called a Leo-pard.” Vinnie said.

He pronounced Leo like a man’s first name, emphasis on the first syllable.  I knew without looking at the book that the animal in question was a leopard.

“Vinnie, that animal is not, perchance, a leopard, is it? I asked, knowing the answer.

You could see the realization dawn on Vinnie’s face followed by near panic.  All he needed to say was “of course, how silly of me.” It would have died then and there. But he chose a different tact.

“No, no, I would have known that. It’s spelled differently” Vince insisted.

I grabbed the book off the table, opened it to his bookmark, and there was leopard.

“There’s your goddamn LEO-pard, Vinnie” I said, my finger on the word.

“Jud, you‘ve got to promise not to tell anyone about this! Please!’ Vinnie asked beseechingly.

I told him of course, I wouldn’t tell anyone. And naturally, within 48 hours, everyone we knew had heard the Leo-pard story. My relationship with Vinnie had always been all about pulling each other chains, and this seemed a golden opportunity.  Not only did I tell the rest of our crew, but for the next almost thirty years, Vinnie received leopard photographs and illustrations from all over the world.  In my travels, I kept an eye out for leopard pictures and sent them to Vince. Photographs, pen and ink drawings, charcoal sketches, you name it. He got leopard mailings from Istanbul, Russia, Helsinki, French Polynesia, Dubrovnik etc. Never any message, just the pictures. I thought it was funny and thought he did, too.  I just learned a couple years ago that his Wife Suzie had asked what was with the leopard pictures, and Vinnie claimed to have no idea. He was ashamed of the story, and knowing I had caused him angst makes me feel bad.  I had spoken with him dozens of times over all those years, and he never told me. I wish he had. I would have stopped.

Vinnie was diligent in creating an easygoing, quick-to-laugh aura, but I knew him very well and do not believe that was the real Vinnie.  I think he was often less than happy in his own skin.  I saw the introspective side from time to time. Vinnie was a worrier, and very concerned with how others perceived him.  He was friendly with the hippies, the greasers, the jocks, the intellectuals and artists.  His persona changed according to his audience. Few people try to be everything to everybody, and fewer still succeed at that endeavor.  I think at times Vinnie, himself, wondered who he really was. To people like me, real friends, all Vinnie ever had to be was himself.  He was my friend because I liked him just how he was, not because I viewed him as some work in progress.

I miss Vinnie a great deal. After I’d moved to Manhattan, we existed in different worlds. We’d see each other at the reunions and things, and would always talk at length. In hindsight, I wish I had done more to keep current. But when someone isn’t in your daily life, he is not as relevant as when you see him every day. Not less important, just less relevant. I thought Vinnie was always going to be there. I was wrong and I miss my friend. I hope he’s at peace.