Henry J. Pagliarulo died on November 17, 2008. Papa lived eighty seven years, had four children, five grandchildren, and six great grandchildren. His story is not dramatically different from most people that age but it is certainly worth telling.
Born on January 25, 1921, in his childhood home in East Boston, Massachusetts, Papa learned early on about the importance of family. He was the 11th of 13 children born to Anthony and Adelaide Pagliarulo, and his beliefs and ideals were formed by his experiences as a child during the Great Depression and by serving his country while the world was at war. Papa was a member of the Greatest Generation - a generation who knew that material things were fleeting luxuries and that family was a constant; a generation who sacrificed personal goals for the benefit of the world. Papa served in the Navy as a SeaBee during World War II and he, like so many others of that time, took those life lessons learned at an early age and set out to make his mark on the world.
On October 28, 1945, Papa married Florence Seminatore and they were married for over forty years. Nana was the perfect compliment to Papa. She was the elegance for his practicality, the tenderness for his business sense, and she shared her love for him with every meal she prepared. Papa was a hard worker who rarely took a day off. He was the ultimate planner and provider, and nothing pleased him more than when he was overseeing and directing a project through to its completion. Papa was a skilled and successful businessman in the insurance business and a craftsman with a mind for numbers and calculating. His checkbook was always balanced to the penny and his accounts always in order. If there was a discrepancy you can be rest assured that Papa was right - just ask any credit card company that tried to slip a surcharge past him. He was a lousy tipper but took great joy in finding a bargain and then sharing the story with everyone.
Friends knew Papa as “Henry” and he made new friends everywhere he went – at the beach, in restaurants, by the pool, and around town. Papa opened his door to his friends and welcomed them into his home, cooked them meals, offered them a cold beer, shared their laughter, and reveled in their companionship. His cooking was not on par with Nana's but he did it with the same amount of enthusiasm that she did - just not always the same ingredients. A game of poker and eating his Clams Casino served on shells from the 1970’s were the two most common forms of gambling in his home.
I helped Papa close his cottage up for the winter this past October, something I have done the last few years. Each time, as I stretched the heavy metal chain across the driveway and clamped the padlock closed for him, I would ask myself, "I wonder if he will be here next year?" However, he never wondered for a second and would then give me a handshake and a kiss on the cheek and say, "Okay, Scotty. I'll see you next year. You and Deb come with the kids and see me in Florida if you can." And down the road in his brown Nissan Altima he would drive.
Living to the age of eighty seven is a wonderful thing. But when you live a long time you also experience loss and hardship, and Papa suffered many. He lost Nana eighteen years ago, ten brothers and sisters, and numerous friends over the years. However, Papa endured, took comfort in the joys brought to him by the next generation, and continued to love those who were still a part of his life.
Papa was a tough man too. His body suffered from many things including heart disease, diabetes, kidney problems, and a blood disorder. In recent years he sustained bumps, bruises, and cracked ribs from falls in and around his home. But Papa always got back up, determined to live his life the way that he wanted – in his home and on his own. He was lonely at times but he possessed a will to live that was stronger than most; a will deeply rooted in the belief that he was meant to live another day.
On November 13, 2008, Henry Pagliarulo made his final trip home from Florida. Papa returned to a cold, damp, and rainy New England a tired and sick man. He had checked himself into a hospital several weeks earlier and we had learned that the news was not good; there would be just enough time for Papa to come home to Massachusetts to die. As he completed his long journey and was wheeled into the Kaplan Family Hospice House he was thrilled with the reception he was given by his waiting family, equating it to that of a welcome worthy of the President of the United States.
In typical Papa fashion his spirits were strong and his humor was still very much intact. He held court in the center of his suite making us laugh and easing our pain. Minutes after arriving at The Kaplan House one of the staff members entered the room and asked Papa a simple question, “How are you doing, Henry?” Papa, with a wave of his arm towards his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren replied, “I’ve done quite well thank you.” He had absolutely no regrets.
Papa’s troubles here did not last long and Monday, November 17, 2008 was the day that he decided it was time. Papa lived and he died on his terms.
I was lucky to have known Henry J. Pagliarulo and honored that he came to introduce me to people as, "his grandson." I also take comfort in knowing that the last time I saw Papa alive I looked him in the eye, told him I loved him, and was able to say, 'good-bye Papa." It's hard to feel so lucky and so sad at the same time.