Our brother, Ron, was a most unfortunate man.
He suffered severe mental illness as well as many physical ailments his entire life, but was sustained by his deep religious faith as a born-again Christian. His belief in Jesus Christ and in his eventual heavenly reward comforted him as he suffered a troubled and tremendously painful existence that would have overwhelmed a lesser man.
He had an excellent memory, and could quote The Bible, chapter and verse: St. Paul to the Corinthians among many others. He never forgot the month, day and year of everyone’s birth and could recall events from decades earlier with astonishing detail.
In the 1960s and ‘70s he worked as a skilled laborer at manufacturing companies; hard, dirty work, but he really loved it. One day, he suffered an epileptic seizure on the factory floor, which rendered him unemployable in industry for the rest of his life.
Old age brought mental, as well as physical, decline. In his final years, he began to imagine that people were breaking into his apartment when he wasn’t there. He turned the bureau in his bedroom around so that the drawers would face the wall in a senseless attempt to keep the nonexistent burglars from stealing whatever was in there.
He hated to ask for help from other people because he wanted to solve his own problems and function in the world like everybody else, so he longed to be normal and to be perceived as such by other people. Even late in his life, he expressed a fond hope that he would one day find a woman to marry and live like others. But no woman would have him.
Despite his many struggles, there were also moments of grace. He had friends, and people would generously invite him into their homes at Thanksgiving and Christmas, so, he experienced kindness and understanding from others often, but not always.
Dressed oddly, choosing clothes by the bright colors that lifted his spirits rather than what was fashionable or even appropriate, he was sometimes subjected to mockery and derision from street punks and other reprobates as he walked through the city.
Despite a bout of prostate cancer and a mild heart attack years earlier, he was still strong enough to stand up to them with scorching ferocity and give as good as he got.
Like many devout Christians, he did not fear death. “Absent from the body. Present with The Lord,” he would often say.
He recently mentioned that he was about to match the lifespan of our late father, who had lived 80 years, but The Reaper came quietly in the night and took him before he could make it.
But one glorious episode from his youth stands out.
Although he was extremely physically strong, he lacked the athletic prowess of the other neighborhood kids who were tolerant of him, but who were well aware that there was something off here.
When he was about 14 or so, he was playing in a pick-up game of baseball in front of his childhood home on Sterling Street in Lynn when Georgie Clark, the oldest and mightiest of the boys and captain of his team, hit a blistering line drive that would have soared all the way to Walnut Street if not for Ron. Standing at second base only about 50 feet from the manhole cover that served as home plate, his mind wandering as usual, and wearing no glove because he had only a thumb but no fingers on his left hand, he reacted at the crack of the bat as the ball was about to go rocketing over his head.
BANG!SMACK! The ball went from the bat and into his good right hand in less than a second. BANG!SMACK! Hit and then caught by the boy who was always chosen last. BANG!SMACK! And suddenly, respect.
Mike Pingree writes the “Looking Glass” column every Sunday in the Herald.
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