Officially, winter may still be a few weeks away, but in reality it’s already here. The heat’s been on, the radiators have been bled, and our older windows are covered in plastic.
Winters used to bring out the inner child in me, with plenty of sleigh riding and snowball fights. But winters make me feel old now, with lots of walking carefully and wearing extra layers of sweaters when I go to bed.
Winter also marks the end of another year, and as you get older you begin to realize that you’ve got less winters ahead of you than you have in the past.
When I think back a dozen years, when my wife and I first got involved in the community we grew up in, I’m struck by how few friends we had.
All of our childhood friends had moved away and we rarely saw them. We had drifted away from many of our adult friends, trading Christmas cards and an occasional phone call, but little else.
In 2009, we became involved with the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association and, as you would expect when you join a local civic group, many of our new friends and acquaintances were seniors.
Two of the older gentlemen we became friends with were Joe Virgona and Roger Hennin. Both had been involved in local groups and organizations for decades. Both their families were involved in the church and, collectively, they all volunteered many hours in service for our community.
Joe and Roger were the last two members of the Knights of Columbus in Woodhaven, and it was in that capacity that they asked us to join them at a Mardi Gras celebration taking place at Monsignor Mulz Hall at St. Thomas the Apostle.
We joined Joe and Roger and their lovely wives, Irmgard (Sue) Virgona and Josephine Hennin, for a terrific night of music and dancing and food. We were still new and didn’t know many people, and Sue and Josephine made sure to introduce us to everyone else at the table.
Josephine Hennin hit it off with my wife because they shared the same first name and went to the same high school. It was a terrific evening that couldn’t be beat, and we still talk about it from time to time.
There were other evenings and events and we all became good friends, the type of people you always stop and chat with when you see each other on Jamaica Avenue. The type of people you look forward to seeing. Suddenly we had friends again; lots of them and we were happy.
My mom cautioned us to be careful, warning that if we were friends with a lot of people her age or older that we could face many sad moments ahead. It was a morbid way of putting it, but I often had morbid conversations with my mom. And sure enough, mom was right, as she often was.
Joe and then Roger passed away, followed by Sue a few years later. And over those same years we lost a lot of other good local friends: Bill Johnert, John Leis, Susan Farrell, Maria Thomson, John Murray. Truthfully, there have been too many to recount here. My mom ended up being one of those that passed.
And last week, Josephine Hennin passed away. She was a lovely woman, and she has been missed around here since she moved away to live with her daughter.
It marked the sad end of an era for us, but at the same time something else my mom told me has come true. She told me that as time goes by the idea of my own future demise would become less frightening. And as we remain involved in our community and continue to make friends, we find that many of them are younger than us. Much younger.
And to them, we are becoming the seniors they know. And one day it will be our turn. Just as fall turns to winter every year, we all grow older and there’s one less winter in all of our futures.
But what matters most is how we live and the type of person we are while we’re alive. And when my time comes, if I’m remembered half as well as my friends who passed before me are, then I’ll die a happy man, because it’s all about how you live.