Monday, October 13, 2014

My Toast to John and Mary

My baby sister, Mary, got hitched to my new brother, John, this past weekend.  And while they asked my other sisters, Esther and Cecilia, to act as maids (matrons?) of honor, I was asked to pen their wedding toast.

I actually had a lot of trouble writing it, though, and I couldn't put my finger on exactly why until I was almost done with the silly thing.  Spoiler alert: it’s because she’s my baby sister.  Duh.

Anyway, that’s when I re-wrote the speech so it was to be delivered not by me, but by Esther and Cecilia.  They had no idea I was going to ask them to put their champagne down and pick up the microphone.  They had no idea what they were going to say until they read it off of a handful of 3x5 cards.

In short, Esther and Cecilia were fantastic.  They easily (and rightfully) could have told me to eff off, but instead they were happy to play along.

So here’s the wedding toast I wrote and Esther and Cecilia said.  If anyone got any pictures of this that don’t reveal just how drunk I was, please email them to me.  In the meantime, each line below marks a new index card.  ENJOY.


Mike: Hi, everyone, my name is Mike.  I am Mary’s oldest brother, and while I am neither a maid nor honorable, I have been given the great privilege of stepping in and writing the Maid of Honor’s toast to the bride and groom.

That said, I would never want to deprive anyone of the chance to deliver such a toast, so while I did WRITE the speech, I’m going to hand it off to Mary’s actual Maids of Honor to READ it.  Ladies and gentlemen, Esther Eagan and Cecilia Vogt!

Esther: Hi, everyone, my name is Esther, and I am the Maid of Honor.

Cecilia: Hi, everyone, my name is Cecilia, and I am also the Maid of Honor.

Esther: Thank you all for coming tonight.  I am sure it means a lot to Mary and John that everyone is here to celebrate their big day.

Cecilia: Everything Mike said is true.  He wrote this speech, and neither of us have any idea what we’re about to say.

Esther: Mike, however, is an excellent writer and to prepare this toast, he has peered into our very souls.  He has only written things, therefore, that Cecilia and I believe to be true with all our hearts.

Cecilia: And we know that he worked very hard to write a beautiful tribute to Mary and John.  If we do not read these words exactly as Mike has written them, we know that Mary and John’s wedding will totally be ruined and we will have to do it all over again tomorrow.  So we hereby promise to be very serious and read everything exactly as it is written, no more, no less.

Esther: Butts.

Cecilia: Booger.

Esther: Mike is the smartest person I know.

Cecilia: It’s no wonder Mom loves him best.

Esther:  While we could sincerely talk about how awesome Mike is all night, we’re actually here to raise our glasses and say congratulations to our sister, Mary, and our new brother, John.

Cecilia: We first met John a few years ago.

Esther: We remember it well.

Cecilia: It was sometime after Mary was born and sometime before this moment.

Esther: Aaah, the memories.

Cecilia: We can’t be more specific about that because Mike actually doesn’t know when we met you and we weren’t answering his text messages back when he was writing this speech.

Esther: Regardless, we quickly came to see why Mary was so head-over-heels in love.  This part Mike DOES know, because we’ve talked about it with him before.

Cecilia: You are kind.  You are loving.  You are fun.

Esther: And you are 100% devoted to our sister.

Cecilia: Mike agrees with us on these.  He has two vivid memories from when he met you.  The first was that you came to visit him and Lisa in the hospital when Clark was born.  They’d only met you a few times at that point, but you were one of the first people ever to hold their newborn son.  Mike could see it meant a lot to you, and it meant a lot to him too.

Esther: The second thing is that you looked a lot like Dan Pogorzelski.  Mike could have written this toast entirely about that and the fact that Mary hates birds, but he decided to be more sentimental.

Cecilia: Anyway, since that time, you became part of our family.

Esther: And we don’t just mean when you put that ring on today.  You have been a partner to Mary…

Cecilia: …a brother to me, Esther, Louis and Mike…

Esther: …and an uncle to all our kids…

Cecilia: …since you first came into our lives.

Esther: Which, to reiterate, was sometime after Mary was born and sometime before this moment.

Cecilia: You’ve truly had an effect on all of us and we can’t imagine our family without you now.  Welcome to the family, John.  We love you!

Esther: And Mary, we haven’t forgotten about you.  We love you too!

Cecilia: We first met Mary a few years ago.

Esther: We remember it well.

Cecilia: It was sometime after Mary was born and sometime before this moment.

Esther: Aaah, the memories.

Cecilia: Mike met her at a summer camp when they were both 12 year old girls.

Esther: That’s an inside joke, by the way.  Surely no one but Mary and Mike gets it.

Cecilia: I only kind of get it…

Cecilia: and don’t call me Shirley.

Esther: Anyway, while we were all growing up, my siblings and I all played our parts.

Cecilia: I was the funny one.

Esther: Louis was the cool one.

Cecilia: Esther was the leader.

Esther: Mike was the cool, funny one with strong leadership qualities.

Cecilia: And you, Mary, were the youngest.  You were always our baby sister.

Esther: You were our mascot.  Our Maggie Simpson.  Our Rudy Huxtable.

Cecilia: When we were little, it meant you were always the tagalong, but as we grew up, you became our anchor.  Without fail, you were always there to welcome us home.

Esther: When I went off to college, you were there waiting for me when I came back for Christmas.

Cecilia: When I moved to Toronto, you were always there when I called to ask about our teachers at Iroquois.

Esther: When Mike and Louis moved in to their own apartment closer to the city, they knew you would never be too far away, that you would always be there, as their baby sister.

Cecilia: And this is where it occurred to Mike.  As he was writing this speech, it was at this moment that he realized why he was having so much trouble with it.

Esther: It was here he decided he probably wouldn’t be strong enough to look at you and realize just how proud he is and say these words out loud.  So he’s making us do it.

Cecilia: Sometime after you were born…

Esther: …and sometime before this moment…

Cecilia: …you grew up.

Esther: You aren’t just our baby sister anymore.

Cecilia: And, Mary, just like us, Mike is so proud of you.  He loves what you have become.  He loves John and he loves how much John loves you.

Esther: So, finally, ladies and gentlemen, family and friends, if you love John and Mary as much as we do, then help us to congratulate them by raising your glasses!

Cecilia: To Mary and John!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Also all true things

Today is the first day of Maeve's summer vacation.  She is no longer a first grader.  Someday I'll read these words and wonder if her kids understand what a cool 6-year-old she was.  I'll show them this picture, taken during yesterday's field trip to an amusement park and probably join in as they make fun of her.  I will get a little mad at the fact that I was unable to shackle my children to their youth.  I might hum an Elvis song.

Friday, June 7, 2013

These are all factual statements.

Today is Adelaide’s last day of kindergarten.

It’s Friday, June 7, 2013, partly cloudy, National Doughnut Day, I’m wearing a blue shirt, someone in my office is humming a Bruno Mars song, and it’s the last day that Addie will ever get on a bus and go off to be a kindergartner.

Right now, today, all those things are true.  I just felt like they needed to be written down somewhere before they aren't anymore.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Devolution of a Leaf Pile

Anyone seen the girls?

 Special Bonus: School pics...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

And I'm happy to help.

Maeve left this message for me to find when I got home last night.  In case you can't read it (let's blame bad iphone camera rather than Maeve's adorably bad handwriting), here's exactly what it says:

I Love 
Mi Mom 
and DaD.
Vae or
So nis
and Vae help

And in case your google translate function fails to make sense of that, here's what she told me it said:

I love
my mom
and dad.
They are
so nice
and they help

I love you too, Maeve.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Let's all get up and dance to a song...

I sent a text message to my mom this morning.  It was just a few words.  I said I was having a bad day and asked for a prayer.  Her prayers move mountains.  Her response is below.  I hope that everyone in the world has someone in their life as special and as supportive as my mom.

"Always.  Just keep in mind that you are one of the smartest, funniest, wisest, handsome-ist, cleverist, luckiest, hardest working, most dedicated and devoted, loyalest, legal-minded people I know. You are one of my favorite people on earth.  I, and everyone around you, want to be with you.  You make me happy, you make me laugh, I rely on you, I trust you completely.  You are amazing. I love you and I am praying for you. Knock 'em dead.  Your guardian angel is still on your shoulder. Xoxoxoxo Mom"

My guardian angel is not on my shoulder.  She's in East Aurora, sending me text messages.

Love you, mom, and thanks.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pics of kids taken by sisters at a party for moms

My wonderful sister, Katie, took some pictures of our Mothers Day BBQ.  Yes we had a bbq to honor our mothers.  They liked it.  Shut up.

Anyway, she posted these to facebook, but because, I think we'll all agree on this, facebook is quickly losing popularity and blogging is totally making a comeback, I'm transferring the pictures here.

Happy Mothers Day, y'all.  Pass the corn.

Clark recently started crawling (as I noted in my last post), so this is about the cleanest you'll see his shirts these days.
Young Finn, my nephew, enjoying a joy ride in the Awesome Bouncy Car Jumper Thing That Plays Music And Needs New Batteries At Least Once A Week (tm).
Enjoying the sun, having some laughs, crossing legs, waiting for food, etc.
Maeve defying gravity and my instructions not to give her mother a heart attack until after mothers day is over.
Oh, wait, gravity's kicking in.

Aaaaaand, this is Adelaide, about to kick a princess balloon into the stratosphere.
Might be brownie crumbs.  Might be dirt.  Happy Mothers Day!


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

An ovation? For me?

Dude JUST started crawling. He'll be outrunning me soon.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

My Eulogy for Neil E. Garvey

A few years ago, I was a law student, working on a closing statement for my mock trial.   I was stuck, so I called my uncle, Neil.  After he helped me, I told him that writing was effortless for him.  He gave me this advice: “Just sit down and write.  Be honest.  The words will come to you.”  So Uncle, this week I took your advice.  I sat down and I was honest and I wrote.  These are the words that came to me.

To start, I would like to point out that Neil would be really touched by all the people here today.  If nothing else, he loved an audience.  And I know it would have meant so much to him that, as he goes to find his final reward, he has a packed house to show him off.  Thank you all for that. 

To say Neil died without having made a family would be a misrepresentation.  For one, of course, he has me, he has us, the Garveys.  I had the very distinct pleasure to mourn Neil’s passing this week with nearly all of my Garvey cousins and we all agreed Neil was like a dad in so many respects.  He took care of us.  He raised us.  He held us as babies, introduced us to latin, to Shakespeare and to Mystery Science Theatre 3000 as kids, and he cheered the loudest at our football games, our plays, our wrestling matches and our graduations as we grew.   We are where and who we are today because of Uncle Neil. 

But my point is, of course, that’s hardly the extent of Neil’s family.  This, this entire room, is Neil’s family.  As I came to learn this week, he would have done (and did) the same for anyone here.  He thought being a Garvey was a pretty cool thing, but anyone was eligible to be an honorary Garvey in his eyes.  He was raised, and entirely believed in the fact that there was always, always room for one more at the table. 

To the Garveys, as I’m sure to many of you, Neil served as a constant.  An anchor.  He was always there, holding court at the end of the kitchen table.  Even when the table wasn’t his, he’d have made room at it for you. 

Neil was the Garvey historian.  He could trace our family tree back for generations in one breath.  And in the next he could tell you from which ancestor you inherited your eyes, your chin, your temper or your sense of humor.  He had an intense knowledge of his parents' parents, their parents, and so on, not just when they were born or where they lived, but who they really were and what they believed.  When my grandfather died, Neil talked about his own grandfather, Grampa Mike.  He wrote:

Grandpa Mike was, among other things, a saloonkeeper, a tough profession at any time, but especially during prohibition, yet he managed just fine. So dad learned a saloonkeeper’s knack of how to judge character, and to measure a man up quickly.  But more than that, grandpa mike imbued in dad a 19th century code of honor and decency. He learned that there was a right way to treat people. 

Neil wrote intricate and very specific pages about who this great man was, and drew a parallel to those character traits he saw in his own father.  I’m sure you’ll agree these historical facts, though, were also the building blocks of his own character.  Neil certainly knew the right way to treat people.

As Garvey historian, Neil was also interested in memorializing the here and now.  How often would you see him without his camera?  He was not a great photographer, but I suspect the quality of the picture was irrelevant to Neil.  The real reason you take a picture is to capture and remember a happy or proud time.  At something as significant as a wedding or as common as a Sunday dinner, Neil would be the first to tell everyone to squeeze in for a group photo.  And at the end of every year, I used to love finding the pictures he took, the ones that made the cut, anyway, slid into frames and into our stockings.  This was our annual Garvey highlight reel, courtesy of Uncle Neil. 

A few days after Neil died, I tried to find his camera to see if there were any pictures left on it.  I actually didn’t find it until this morning [take out Neil’s camera] and, no, he must have uploaded everything he had.  I did, however, find a small pile of photographs in a shoebox on his desk.  Each was faded with time and dog-eared from, I assume, being pulled out and shuffled through a thousand times.  Later that week, my family and I poured through boxes of old photographs, the vast majority of which Neil took.  While I was writing this eulogy, I even looked at the pictures Neil uploaded to his Facebook account.  There were pictures of his friends on stage in Delaware Park.  There were pictures of him as a younger man, surrounded by family and friends, on the Fertile Turtle and pictures of him, not so young but with just as many friends, on the same boat.  There were pictures of his brothers and sisters at each of their weddings.  There were so many pictures of his parents.  He loved his parents so much.  One in particular was of my grandparents at their 50th wedding anniversary, looking so proud. 

I found one of my sister, Esther laughing with John and their beautiful children in Sixmilebridge in Ireland.  There was a picture of Shannon and Pat at their wedding, surrounded by family, exactly where they’re supposed to be.  I found a great picture of Amelia posing with Gramma with the caption, “on her 86th birthday!”  I assume it was Gramma’s 86th and not Amelia's.  He had a picture of Catlin and Mike at the party we held after they got married, filled with life and love.  I found pictures of sweet Cecilia and Amy at their wedding, of the regal Arthur and Tyler in their Statesmen uniforms, and the graceful Anna on horseback.  There was a picture of Ben, laughing and tending to the grill during some cookout and a picture of Alex standing at the chopping block in our grandparents’ kitchen during, I’d guess based on the amazing spread, Thanksgiving, but it could also have been, you know, Tuesday.  There was a picture of Patrick and James playing pool in the basement, of Mary at about age one, wandering aimlessly through the back yard, of Emma, smiling so wide and sitting at the kitchen table with her mother.  There was a picture of Elise from what might have been her first communion and a picture of Brendan at his going-away party, and a picture of Jena with her father, Joe.  I found one I’ve always loved of Louis and Neil, smiling proudly in front of the Cliffs of Moher.  And there was one of me too.  It was from the time I lived on Inwood, just a few doors down from my uncle. 

These were his happy and proud moments, the ones he saw fit to memorialize and the ones he wanted within arm’s reach.  Not his own accomplishments, though there were many, but those of his family.  It was these proud moments he wanted to commit to history, so to that end, everyone squeeze together. [Use Neil’s camera to take a pic of the crowd.] 

I remember showing him a picture of my daughter, Adelaide, who was making a silly face.  She was three at the time.  He howled with laughter and remarked that the silly face pictures were “the keepers”.

And of course, Neil could always be counted on to take the microphone.  Neil knew well the power of words and he spent his life learning how to write them and how to say them.  At Sunday dinner, he’d be the most likely to make a toast using exactly the right quote from James Joyce, or, depending on the company, Mel Brooks.

He stood at this very podium and delivered three of the most beautiful speeches I have ever heard.  Once to eulogize his brother Jim, once for his brother Joe and once in tribute to my grandfather, James, Sr.   This past week, four different people, at four different times, approached me in true anger at the fates for taking Neil before he could write and deliver a similar eulogy for them. 

I can now speak from very honest experience that giving a eulogy is scary, but what is fear for you and me was food for Neil Garvey.  For example, minutes before Ray Hoffman’s funeral was to begin, his oldest son, Frits, tried to give Neil a scare.  He pulled Neil aside as the congregation was filling into the pews and feigned an attack of nerves.  “I can’t do it, Neil”, said Frits, “please, you have to go on and do the eulogy for me.”  While this would terrify most mortals, Neil, without a hint of hesitation, smoothed out his scarf and said “When do I go on?” 

The amazing thing is, not only is he fearless, but I bet he could have done it.  By the time he uttered the “on” part of “When do I go on?”, he probably had three anecdotes and two Shakespearean references picked out and ready to go.  Neil could seduce a willing audience, and do it not just with charisma, but with the brains to back it up.

My wife and I, when we were planning our wedding, asked Neil if he would do us the great and solemn honor of doing a reading during the mass.  He accepted, so we printed out the passage.  You’ve all heard it, it’s Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:  “Love is patient and is kind”, etc.

So on July 9, 2005, the wedding mass had started and I was just short of hyperventilating from nerves.  It was the greatest day of my life, marrying my best friend in the presence of my friends and family.  I knew my grandfather, James Garvey and Lisa’s grandfather, Richard Leberer, were there in spirit, nodding approvingly, like the blue ghosts of Obi Wan and Yoda at the end of Jedi.  And indeed, I even felt the presence of God Himself, loving and blessing us from above.

Paul’s letter, I think, is a perfect embodiment of that feeling.  It talks about what, exactly, love is, and I was so happy that Neil had agreed to do the reading.  His powerful delivery would make the ceremony, the ritual, the sacrament of my marriage that much more sublime, inspirational.

Neil had another idea.  He took the podium, adjusted his microphone and said: “A reading from the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.  Dear Corinthians, how are you in Corinth?  Things here are lovely… oh, wait, I’m sorry, that was the First Postcard of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.” 

Three things about that story.  First, his reading pretty much ignored Paul’s statement, in the first line of that passage, that “love doesn’t behave itself inappropriately”.  Second, I love that the passage we printed out for Neil was an excerpt, a few sentences at most, which he ignored and instead read the entire chapter from his own bible.  And third, I wouldn’t have changed any little part of it. 

On a side note, Lisa, John, Amy, Pat, Mike and all of Neil’s sisters in law: Neil loved you so much.  You were every bit as close to his heart as any blood relative and he considered our family stronger and better for having you in it.  Remember when Neil said grace at our wedding rehearsal, Lisa?  When he said “I hope Lisa and Mike have a long and beautiful marriage, but, if the unthinkable happens… we get Lisa.”  He meant it.

My daughter Adelaide is four now.  She asked me this week if I thought Neil missed her all the way up in heaven.  I bit a hole in my lip, trying not to cry, and I assured her that Uncle Neil will always love her, and I am certain he misses her.  Lisa added that Neil will always be able to look down from heaven and see her pretty face whenever he wants to.  Addie let this idea sink in, she thought about it for a second, then slowly looked skyward and made a silly face. 

And I could again immediately hear Neil howling with laughter, saying that face is a “keeper”.  He’s at the end of heaven’s enormous kitchen table looking down on us, sitting near Manny Freid, Tim White and Chris O'Neill.  And why not?  Shakespeare and Davy Jones are there too.  He’s surrounded by the generations of Garveys and Malloys and Haars and all the ancestors he knew so well.  His cousin Charlann is laughing with him just as hard.  But more importantly, he’s next to his older brothers, Jim and Joe, and finally wrapping his arms around that man with the 19th century code of honor, his dad.  And what a party they’re having, looking down on and loving us all from above.

So in closing, Uncle Neil, I’ll end my tribute by raising my voice skyward and telling you directly that you left this mortal coil a better place than when you found it.  With your confidence, you taught us to be confident.  With your humor, you taught us to be funny.  With your strength, you taught us to be proud of where we came from.  With your love of life, you taught us that so long as we take care of each other, everything will be alright.  You taught us to keep our perspective open and forever widening.  You taught us the power of the written word, those we read and those that we ourselves commit to paper.  In your honor, I will always put family first and I will know that everyone is family.  In your honor, I will always, always make room for one more at my table. 

I love you, Uncle.  Godspeed.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Neil Garvey, my uncle, passed away last week.

I've spent the last few days, smacking my head against a keyboard, trying furiously to come up with something even halfway intelligent to say in his eulogy.  So far, my best efforts have only resulted in a half a page of elementary-school-level insight.  "Neil was a great uncle.  He was great.  What a great uncle Neil was..."

Anyway, I don't want to waste all my A material here.  This post is just to let you know bufblopofo isn't going to start tomorrow.  I might push it out a month or so, but just not now.

In the meantime, these are pictures my brother, Louis, found of our uncle.  He really was a great uncle.

This was on Papa's boat, the Fertile Turtle, in 1979.  That's me on mom's lap and Esther in the lower right, looking a lot like Maeve.  I like Neil's sunglasses.

Neil, again, with me and Esther.  This time at perhaps his favorite place on earth: in the kitchen, surrounded by fam.

Same table, 28 years later, this time with my daughter Maeve.  Even if I can't find the words to say it, Neil, I miss you.

A quick update.  Not to be maudlin, but I want to share this.  I was working on the eulogy yesterday and Maeve asked what I was writing.  I didn't feel like explaining the whole concept, so I told her it was a story about Neil.  This morning, while she was eating breakfast, Maeve timidly asked if, in my story, I could make Neil alive instead of dead.

Then she and Addie continued to ask questions about heaven and

Neil in heaven and
Neil with wings and
whether Neil has coffee in heaven and
if Neil can get married in heaven and
whether I could make my story about Neil, who should be alive, getting married.

Addie asked if Neil misses her.  I said yes, of course, but then Lisa wisely chimed in that he could see them whenever he wanted.  Addie let this sink in, took a second, then looked skyward and made a silly face.

Rest assured, Uncle, that while I can't make you alive with my words, your sense of humor more than lives on in your great nieces.