November 20th, 2010
George was born on May 28, 1942 in Astoria Queens to a mother of Irish ancestry and a father of German ancestry. At the time of his birth, George’s father was off fighting as an American soldier on the front lines of World War II, undergoing experiences that must have traumatized him for the rest of his life. He was awarded a purple heart when he was wounded in first wave of soldiers who landed at Normandy Beach.
Consequently, George was three before his father finally came home to live with him. His sister Susan was born after his father returned home, and she would be a great blessing for George for the rest of his life.
As a little kid, George would look out the window of his house and call out to people passing by on the street. “Hey, Lady, what are you doing?” He apparently knew pretty much everybody in the neighborhood.
At eighteen George’s father demanded that he either get a job or join the army. George chose the Army and was stationed in Korea before being discharged with bleeding ulcers. After returning home, George found work with Steinway Piano, before taking a job in New York City with Dell Publishing.
It was there in 1965 that George met Carol, who had recently begun working there having just graduated from high school. Carol remembers being struck by George’s sweetness. He bought her a cup of coffee, and then three weeks later asked her out on their first date to go to none other than the World’s Fair.
Very quickly, George and Carol fell deeply in love. Just three weeks after their first date, they were engaged, but not before George made a point of asking Carol’s father and mother for her hand in marriage — a request they were most pleased to grant.
It was only three months later that George and Carol were married right here in the Parsippany Methodist Church, in what would have been one of the very first weddings held here in the new building, which had opened just seven months earlier. Rev. Ed Wynne officiated. A reception was held in a restaurant in Boonton, but their work schedules prevented the newlyweds from taking a honey moon.
They lived in an apartment at Colonial Heights on Parsippany Road. George worked at Rowe Manufacturing, Grand Union, Acme and Shop Rite. Always a very hard worker, throughout his life George would often work seven days a week at two jobs to support his family.
In 1968 Carol gave birth to Michael. In spite of the fact that Michael weighed only two pounds, two ounces and would need to spend the first three months of his life in the hospital, George felt tremendous pride and happiness in the birth of his son. A man who rarely ever drank, George ordered a drink that night to celebrate.
In 1975, following the death of Carol’s father, George, Carol and Michael moved in to the family home on Ute Street where Carol had grown up in order to look after Carol’s mother. Carol’s sister Sharon would come to live there as well, and at times her sister Krystal as well. Through all their years together George shared in the concern for their various serious health concerns, and eventually, in the grief of their deaths. George was the solid rock of the family.
The rock, however had help. Over the years George and the family were supported through their struggles by George’s sister Susan who lived in New York. George loved, and was proud of, his sister’s three children: LauriAnn, Virginia and Michael.
Although George spent a great deal of time out of the home working to support the family, his son Michael has many happy memories over the years of special times spent with his Dad. George was the Dad who built the train set and the bicycles Michael found under the Christmas tree.
Michael remembers his Dad taking him to Madison Square Garden to see Disney on Parade, as well as Ringly Brothers Barnum and Baily Circus, and being struck by how well his Dad knew his way around the big city.
He remembers his Dad taking him to a Yankee game back in 1977, getting there well before the stadium doors were opened. When Michael needed to go to a bathroom, his Dad spoke to an attendant, explaining that his son had diabetes and really needed to go. The attendant took Michael (but not George) into the actual clubhouse of the Yankees to use the facilities there, a memory Michael never forgot.
For a time George served with First Aid Squad, and Michael remembers his pride and excitement when his father would take him out to ride in the ambulance. On one occasion George saved the life of a child who was choking.
Michael remembers happy times spent with his Dad going to a Professional Wrestling Match at the Meadowlands, to a Monster Truck Pull, and to a Willy Nelson concern, which, although it wasn’t a Rock concert, Michael found nonetheless pretty cool.
George took his son deep sea fishing, and to just about everyone of the Star Wars movies. Thanks to George’s niece LauriAnn who worked for the company that built the new Yankee Stadium, George and Michael were able to be there for opening day in 2009, sitting just three rows back from the dugout.
There are so many wonderful memories that George provided for his son.
But perhaps his greatest gift his father gave him in his lifetime was the gift of his own kidney in 1992 when Michael’s kidneys. George never hesitated in offering up his kidney to his son. Before the test results came back, George some how knew that his kidney would be the match that was needed.
In the hospital after the transplant surgery, George got frustrated waiting for word on how his son was doing, and so he got up out of bed to go and find his son, much to the nurses dismay. He was able to let go and rest only after he’d seen his son and knew that he was doing okay with his new kidney.
George literally gave his son life with the gift of that kidney, and the years that followed were some of Michael’s happiest. He met Larli, and married her. George loved his daughter-in-law and deeply appreciated her devotion to his son. He also loved the beautiful kids to whom Laurli gave birth: Matthew and Danielle. The house was full chaotic of life and love, and the grandchildren brought a spring back to George’s step, in spite of all the aches and pains with which he had become accustomed to living.
George taught Matthew how to use the computer when he was only two, and then marvelled at how quickly his grandson passed him by in computer expertise. He was proud of Matthew’s Taekwondo and the belts he won. He was particularly enjoying taking both Matthew and Michael to a Yankee game this past Memorial Day weekend.
Danielle was her Poppy’s little princess. They liked teasing each other. Daniell would draw pictures for her Poppy and then dart into his room, throw them on his bed, and the run like the wind out the door. George was so proud of her when she danced in her recitals. “That’s my girl,” he would say.
George had never been much into Christmas, a fact that had earned him the affectionate nick name of “Scrooge” from his niece LauriAnn. (She also wore a sweatshirt in honor of George with the words, “A grumpy German is a sour Kraut.”) But George’s distaste for Christmas was completely left behind with the birth of his grandchildren. Now George took special delight in making sure there were lots of fun things under the tree for this kids to open. He just loved Christmas with the kids there.
In 1994 George began working for the Township of Parsippany for the Building Maintenance Department, developing a reputation for reliability and his friendly demeanor about time. Over sixteen years of working for the township George got to know a great many people, just as he had back in his Astoria neighborhood with Susan as a child.
He loved watching Jeopardy, astonishing his family by the fact that he knew all the answers to the questions. George was really smart. He loved to read, enjoying the novels of authors like Tom Clancey, Steven King, and Dan Brown. He loved the TV shows Mash and Law and Order, and his favorite movie was “Patton,” but he also loved Scooby Doo, so go figure, there was room in his heart for everybody from the tough General Patton to the timid dog Scooby.
He was described as “rough around the edges,” but always there for you, always loving, always caring. He was intensely loyal to his family. When Michael was in the hospital recently recovering from open heart surgery, George would call the nurses five or six times a day to check on how he was doing. If a doctor didn’t seem to be giving Michael the best of care, George would let him have it in no uncertain terms.
He could get mad, but then five minutes later he would be over it, letting it all go. Though not much for going to church, George had a deep and abiding faith, continually reassuring his family in their many health crises that everything was going to be okay. He found comfort listening to the Gospel music of the Gaither family. He got involved in the AIDS retreat ministry of our church, providing hospitality for the hard pressed people living with HIV who came to our retreats at Camp Aldersgate.
Back in March of 2009 the whole family got to go to Disney World for a week. It was essentially the first real vacation that George had ever taken — it was the first time Carol had ever gotten a plane. “Pinch me,” he said to Carol when they got there. “Are we really here?” He was like a little kid. He lost his hat on Space Ride. He loved racing the go carts, and was amazed by the exhibitions of animation. Surrounded by his family and having so much pure fun, it was probably the happiest time of George’s entire life. He wanted to go back some day.
Once, when my son Bobby was about four, we had a friend to our house who was depressed. He was having a hard time believing in a loving God. I asked him, “Can you imagine a heaven beyond death?” He answered, rather cynically, “Sure, it would be great to believe that when you die, you go to Disney World.” Shortly thereafter my son Bobby came into the room. He hadn’t heard the conversation. He liked our friend, and wanted to give him a gift, which he had wrapped up as only a four year old can do. When our friend opened Bobby’s present, he found a Mickey Mouse figurine his sister had brought back for him from, of all places, Disney World.
Months later on a when I told this story in a sermon in church, some friends just happend to bring me a present from their recent trip to, of all places, Disney World. It was a Jiminey Cricket cup. God drops little hints to invite us to wonder and the glory that is in store for us, which the apostle Paul says makes all the sufferings of this life seem like nothing in comparison. Heaven is even better than Disney World.
George loved his wife Carol. Never once did he take his wedding ring off, even when he underwent surgery. In the middle of the night he would lean over to Carol sleeping beside her to tell her he loved her. By another odd coincidence — a “God — incidence”, this day happens to be George and Carol’s 45th wedding anniversary. They began their life together in this very same church, and now, coming full circle, their time together on earth ends here once more.
I was struck by the words of John in Revelations 21 which we read earlier:
“And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” – prepared as Carol for George.
The faithfulness of a loving marriage like the one that George and Carol shared for 45 years gives us one of the best glimpses we’ll get of the love that lives in heaven.
1Corinthians 13 is a chapter that is often read at weddings. “Though I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, if I have not love, I am nothing… Love is patient and kind. Love bears all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Everything else passes away. We are here to love; to embody, in our own unique way the love of God in our flesh. This is what George did. We often get misled in life regarding what life is all about. It is not about attaining riches, fame or power. It is about sharing kindness.
George was a humble man who lived this out in his life. He went grocery shopping every Sunday for his family. The Sunday before he died in his sleep, George purchased extra food – a tray of lasagna, some chicken dinners – that Carol found in the freezer after his death. It was as if he were providing for his family even in death.
She seemed to have had some awareness that his time is short. The night he died he called Michael on the phone at the hospital and told him not once, but twice that he loved his son. He helped Matthew move his television to a lower level so that he could see it better. When he came into the bedroom where Carol was, he said, “Am I a good grandfather?” I think he knew the answer.
In the end, life is all about love. George gave Danielle a little teddy bear with a Yankees insignia on it. When her grandfather died, she named the bear George. She placed it on the pillow next to where Carol slept. She didn’t want Carol to feel so alone.
The family is grateful for the profound kindness that neighbors and friends have shown them in their grief. Love such as this is eternal.