Home » messages from paul

Happy Birthday to Me

Submitted by on Sunday, 17 May 2009No Comment
Paul's Baseball Picture (1978)

Paul’s Baseball Picture (1978)

It’s my birthday and I am waking up in a cousin’s room at my uncle’s house in Romeoville, Illinois.  It really doesn’t feel like my birthday at all. This is really going to be a bad day; not even close to a birthday.

I am usually the first up – which means shortly all my cousins would be up trying to keep me quiet so as to not wake my aunt and uncle. Not this time though. I wasn’t in the mood to play or screw around. I was just up. My cousins were up too. They all wished me a Happy Birthday. They did not shout it at me but just let me know that no matter what it was still my birthday. I didn’t feel it then by I do feel it now; I am glad that they did that.

You know how when your birthday is coming up you spend the weeks prior thinking about all of the things you want?   The big thing for me this year was a tape recorder. My friend Eric had one and we would play with it at recess.  I really wanted one. It was on the higher end of things that I wanted back then, but that is what I really wanted this year.  All the adults wake up and they bring me my birthday present. Guess what? It was the tape recorder. But not just a tape recorder.  There were three blank tapes and two music tapes. I would later use the blank tapes for music and to tape Saturday Night Live when Holly would babysit me. The other two tapes were AC/DC‘s “If You Want Blood You Got It” and “Let There Be Rock”. Kick ass!   AC/DC was not only going to be my first favorite band but they were going to help save me. I had no idea at the time the role that music would play in my life but it was one of the biggest coping mechanisms that I had. It is still a coping mechanism I use today.

Paul and his brother Mike visiting Santa (1974)

Paul and his brother Mike visiting Santa (1974)

Anyway, I needed a little bump in my life and I got one.  Until I see that my brother Mike had a bunch of presents that looked just like mine.  Sure enough, he is getting the exact same things.   My immediate thought was “it’s not his birthday, but then again his dad was killed.”  Then he opened the two tapes he got.   Beach Boys … not too cool! It wasn’t his birthday after all.  What happened was that my cousins knew what music I liked, but Mike was only 8 and they had no idea what to get him.   So Uncle Bill got him The Beach Boys. That sucks for him. I was coping to lyrics like “BLOOD on the streets”…”BLOOD on the rocks”…”BLOOD in the gutter, EVERY LAST DROP, YOU WANT BLOOD you got it!!!!!” Poor Mike had “Lets, go surfing now, everybody’s learning how, c’mon a safari with meeeeee.” How are you supposed to work out your emotions around your father’s death with that shit? Poor little fella!

If you know me, then you know I love music.  Now you know why.   It helped me a lot during this time.

We have to get to my father’s wake. It is in downtown Chicago on Harlem Avenue. This funeral home is owned by my father’s family friend, Salerno and Son. We found out from my uncle that they were going to try to have an open casket viewing. They just weren’t sure – but they thought he looked presentable. It was a little bit of a ride from Romeoville to Harlem Avenue but we got there soon enough.  When we got there someone had to look at my dad. I think it was my uncle first – then my mom. They decided to have an open casket. It was important to us to have an open casket but we were given a large caveat. If I recall correctly my dad’s right temple was missing and was made of wax.   As a consequence, we were told that no one was to touch my father.

The parlor had four viewing rooms.   One was occupied by my father and the other by an elderly woman. The woman was survived by her husband and he was the only one there. My family went over to visit with him and signed his wife’s prayer book.

About prayer books:  I always sign them but I never leave an address. I watched how many cards my mom had to sign and mail. I don’t know – maybe it’s just me – but I don’t want to make anyone grieving feel like they needed to write me a note.

Before they opened the viewing room for my father, my uncle took me aside and walked me to the front of the viewing room from the right side.  When were a few feet from the coffin, he told me “Look, your father may not look like you remember him.” He then went on to tell me what they had to do prepare him. He was right. When I saw my father he did not look the same. He always had a five o’clock shadow but he had no shadow at all. His skin didn’t look natural – but nobody does when they are dead. Throughout the wake my father did come back to me. Thank God.  My initial view of my father shocked me and I did not want that to be the way I remembered him.  I realized at this moment that I felt I was forgetting who my father was.  It was getting hard to remember. I also remember the feeling that this would get worse – and it did.   I felt like my father was oozing from me and I could not stop it.

Ron Scharff Prayer Card (1981)

Ron Scharff Prayer Card (1981)

Later we got hungry. My cousins rounded up my brothers and me to go to the restaurant across the street. We were told to be on our best behavior, there may be some people eating there. “Some people”, I knew, meant the Chicago Outfit or the Chicago mob. It did not bother any of us; it’s just meant that we needed to behave. I don’t know if there were any Outfit Guys there or not but we had a good lunch, I was hungry. They would not bother us if they were there any way. It was the first time that I ate something without being told I had to eat something.

We headed back to the funeral home. The parlor had two big floors – an upstairs and a downstairs. I spent a lot of time moving between them whenever I wanted to change the environment. Upstairs is where the viewing rooms were, and where families would meet and exchange condolences.  Downstairs people drank a lot of coffee, smoked cigarettes and engaged in lighter conversation that did not include murder or people being killed. I drank coffee. It was really the first time that I would drink a whole cup of coffee (or two). I was pretty jacked up for a while and didn’t feel very good later on in the day.   To this day, I still really don’t drink coffee.

As the night would go on, more and more people showed up. The later it got the more people that were there. People were shoulder to shoulder up and down the stairs.   The funeral home never had that many people in its history. I knew a lot of the people but there were many I didn’t know. Everyone seemed to know who I was. Half the time I was referred as “Little Ron,” I didn’t mind. Everybody said the same things. “I am so sorry for your loss …”.   I was frustrated by this statement. Unless you killed my father what were you sorry for? I did not want to lash out at anyone. I came to realize that if there was anyone more uncomfortable then me in that room, I was probably looking at them. I felt like I had a responsibility to all these good people who came to pay their respects to my father didn’t know what to say other than “I am so sorry for your loss …”.  My responsibility was to be gracious to these good people. It was my job to make them comfortable. It also gave me a sense of purpose. I wish I would have learned that earlier in the day, I might have been a little less awful to some people.  I would not say “Sorry for your loss,” at a funeral for years after this day.

The biggest funeral home cliché if you are the eldest son is “You are the man of the house now”.  That would always be followed by “make sure that you take care of your mother;” and that would often be followed with “Your mom needs you now more than ever”.   Then, of course, there is always “take care of your brothers – they will be looking up to you”.    All of these were drilled into my head over and over that night.  While these all might be true, I don’t think you want to place that much responsibility on the shoulders of a grieving 11 year old.

Surprisingly, I did not cry that much. It’s not that I wasn’t hurting – I was just still so disconnected to what was actually going on.   I learned that I needed to help others get through this. I did not cry much but that doesn’t mean others didn’t. I remember kneeling at my father’s coffin and praying with my cousin Dagmar. She cried and I learned that your tears turn black if you are wearing makeup. I think I cried with her. I remember my Aunt Helen was making her way towards my father’s body. You could tell what was about to happen from across the room. She was going to drape herself across my father. I did not know what to do; nobody was to touch my father. My dad’s brother saw her coming too and intercepted her before she could get to my father.  I felt myself beginning to be horrified but my uncle stopped her. Good, now the day can go back to be just fucking horrible.

It has been a real long day. I greeted literally hundreds of people, I don’t really know how many but it was shoulder to shoulder and they kept on coming. The funeral home never had that many people before and they have had some predominant people use their services. I am overwhelmed, really tired, and still have to go the funeral tomorrow. As I expected, not really a good birthday.   Maybe next year…

Earth to earth, ashes to ashes…

 

Amazon link to Murder In McHenry

This is the Amazon link to the book Murder In McHenry by Paul Scharff and Keith Bettinger

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.