The Old School Tie

He pulls out his brother’s old school tie, grey flannels, and a blazer, as well other the necessary items for a short trip to Rhode Island; shaving kit, shirts, 2 sweaters – 1 cotton, 1 wool – and a pair of polished shoes.

When they were kids growing up there, Rhode Islanders had a saying: “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.”

It had to do with the temperature of the Atlantic Ocean and the temperature on land, or something like that. All he remembered was how fickle the weather was, blizzards in April and rain in December, and everything else in between.

And that was before climate change.

While he’s packing, the TV shows a Kobe Bryant memorial. Thousands of people, stars like Christian Aguilera, Alicia Keys, and Beyonce performing, Michael Jordan and Shaq O’Neal speaking, thousands at the stadium and millions at home sharing tears and laughter. The country had been in mourning since January 26, when the basketball superstar died in a helicopter crash.

According to UN estimates, 7452 die in the US on a typical day. Some are revered superstars; some are just normal people. Some have millions of mourners, some have no one, some in between.

He’s packing for a memorial for one of the in-betweens, which describes most of us. We are born, go through our formative years, have careers, if we’re lucky we have families, grow old and say goodbye. Two or three generations later, few people will even know our name, unless it’s on a gravestone or memorial somewhere.

His son picks him up and they head up route 95 to Greenwich, Connecticut where they pick another son and a daughter who had trained out from New York. All of his kids are out of the nest and on careers and trajectories of their own and this Rhode Island trip is one of those rare occasions where they can all be together.

Others in the extended family arrive at a large Airbnb his daughter had booked. There are two more daughters, some nieces and nephews, grandchildren, and more. He gets the single room, because he’s the last of the “old guys” now. Cancer had taken the oldest brother away in 1996; several few weeks ago a heart attack took this brother. Now there is no-one between him and the cliff.

His brother’s eldest daughter arranged for the memorial service, his sister-in-law still on the roller-coaster that events like this put us on. The church is nearly filled; his brother was that kind of guy, liked by everyone he met, and he had met a lot of people. He wears his brother’s school tie and sees a few others dotting the pews. The service is short and very New England stiff-upper-lip. He listens as the minister encourages people to share happy memories of his brother who is in a happy place now, and he remembers the classic Tom Hanks line, “There’s no crying in baseball!”

Of course, at the reception afterward, guess who breaks the rule while giving a welcome speech. But his New England roots take hold and he gets through it, telling a funny story from their childhood.

Later, at the family dinner, he continues following the minister’s advice with more stories of a man for whom old school ties meant so much, for whom the quiet elegance of integrity and understatement were as ingrained as his innate ability to make puns (the humor of choice for smart people – “and very punny puns”, he thinks – the only pun he could ever come up with, which he did, numerous times).

On the ride home, the stone walls and delicate beauty of New England architecture race past, bringing memories of high school football games, the tie and coat dress code, and a culture that taught one over-riding rule: be a gentleman – no lying, cheating or stealing, respect others, do the right thing. Old school, to be sure. Old, old school.

As New England recedes and is replaced by hi-rises and dense traffic, he thinks about the old school tie in his suitcase. He’ll put it in his bureau in the drawer with other mementos from his youth, rarely to be used again.

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)