|A view down the lake of our hometown|
I was the happy but sometimes bewildered youngest child of six siblings. We were one of Nelson's many big Catholic families. Big families were not at all uncommon back then. Big families tended to bring up a lot of strong characters and my family was no different. It took me a long time to find my footing in the family and in life really, beyond being 'the baby', and I remember well the people who helped me along the way to find out where I fit in.
One of those people was a handsome boy my age, named Rodi. He came from an Italian family that lived up the street and around the bend from us. I had to pass his house every time I walked to Gyro Park where the outdoor pool was. I hadn't gone to elementary school with him, but I knew his family from church. Rodi had dark skin, dark hair, and a beautiful smile. He had time to say hello, and he did every time he saw me go by. He was often outside washing the family car, or mowing the lawn in front of his parents' long, low house which was perched on the top of a cliff and so had a beautiful view down the lake. He had a sweet sister named Deanna, who was friends with one of my older sisters, and his parents were some of the friendliest people in the neighbourhood. When his father spoke it was with a smooth, but strong Italian accent and I would find myself, with my musical ear, answering his questions with a parrotted accent as well. I couldn't help it.
As I grew from a rather tomboyish childhood into girlhood, I was unsure of myself, as I'm sure so many girls of that age are. I was often paired up with the fifth child in my family, my brother Stephen, so I knew about cars and tree forts, how to play gin rummy and be smothered by a pillow. I was flat chested, skinny, with straight, fine hair and almond shaped brown eyes. I didn't feel very much like a girl, but the fact of the matter was, I would have to face it sooner or later.
When I was about twelve, I would walk by Rodi's house, and I would find myself looking for him. He would often call me over and we would just stand there talking as the minutes ticked on. I don't remember what we talked about, but spending those times with him made me feel good. Just the way he talked to me made me feel, above anything, like a normal girl - a girl who was comfortable talking to a nice, cute boy, and nothing more. But more importantly, nothing less. He didn't tease me like my brothers did (endlessly, but I credit them for giving me a sense of humour), or act stupidly like some of the neighbourhood boys, he just talked to me in an encouraging way. He was a very relaxed person and I just felt completely clear-headed and at ease with him. As I grew up into my teen years, we continued to wave to each other as I walked by - he was often working on his own car by then. One day I stopped to talk to him and teased him about a girl we both knew who was well-endowed. "Actually," he said, giving me a sly grin, "I'm more of a leg man."
When I was in Nelson this summer my mom told me that Rodi had been very ill and in the hospital for a long time. His condition was serious. Yesterday, via that good old fashioned method, Facebook, I found out he had passed away. I had not seen Rodi in years, but I knew that he had been a husband and a father, and I grieved for the whole family.
It is strange when someone you grew up with, someone you were a child with, dies. We have lost several schoolmates over the years. How short this life is, yet when you think about it, how full the years can seem, how thick the memories. I once had a friend named Rodi. I thank him for that.
Rest in Peace, Rodi.