I have many wonderful memories of my brother Jay that will stay with me forever. One of the absolute first things I remember is begging my mother and father when I was around 5 or 6 for another baby. My mom, who was already around 43, was like “Sure Janet, we’ll have a baby any day now”, and then (surprise!) in January 1971 along came Jay and I was thrilled !
Back then of course we called him J.J. (short for James Joseph but of course we used to tell him it stood for “Junior Jerk” until our mom told us to stop 😉 and somehow it morphed as he got older to Jay.
My brother Paul already did a wonderful job articulating at Jay’s wake some of the memories of him, especially when he was little trying to take things apart and put them back together again. One of his favorite items was the screwdriver. My mother would swear if she didn’t watch Jay closely when he was 4 or 5 he would go outside and take the car apart screw by screw. I do have a definite memory of him taking apart his clock radio when he was around 7 or 8 and trying to put it back together again. He had put it back together but realized he left a couple of things out. He went downstairs to ask Dad what they were, Dad said “resistors” but Jay decided the heck with it and decided to just plug the clock radio in. So boom, sparks flew – and Jay told me later that day “Janet, that’s how I found out what resistors are for”.
Jay would also immediately go over if there was any work going on anywhere in the block. I remember we had one neighbor at the top of the street that was not particularly friendly, but he loved Jay. Also, there was a water pump station at the top of our street and the guys from the Water Department in the city (who worked for my father) all knew Jay would come and hang out with them whenever they were working up there. They all knew JJ by name.
I also remember him loving to listen to WCBS talk radio at night (a foreshadowing of his love for NPR later on 😉 and then he found out I really like listening to WCBS as well. Since our rooms were right next to each other, I came home one evening to find out that he had drilled a hole between our rooms and run speaker wire and put a speaker in my room so that we could listen to it together when we went to bed. He used to say we were “WCBS Brother and Sister”.
Since I was 7 years older, but still at home, I did try to take him places when I could. He used to love when he was around 8 and we took the bus down to South Yonkers one Sunday morning a month and ate breakfast at McDonald’s, he thought that was the coolest thing that we could do that. I also remember taking him to Midnight Mass at least once when he was around 7 (just him and me and we were meeting up with my friends) and he was all dressed up and his hair combed and a new Cross Pen (he went through a BIG Cross Pen stage) in his pocket. Too funny, but that night I thought I had never seen a more adorable kid in my life.
I also took him to places like Action Park and Great Adventure amusement parks in New Jersey when they were still pretty new. He was not too crazy about the rides and I took him on Rolling Thunder, sort of like a model of an older roller coaster that jerks you around a lot. I still remember him sitting next to me and I looked over at him to see if he was enjoying it and he started yelling “Janet, make it stop, make it stop” and at age 10 he still thought I had the power to make it stop. I did feel kind of bad about that ride, but my friends all felt sorry for him and since he had major crushes at age 10 on all of them that softened the blow somewhat.
My parents would go away about once a year to a convention and my grandmother would watch us until she go too old and frail to really do so. So my Uncle Robert (my dad’s brother) and Aunt Mary came over to watch us for a couple of years instead. The first year this was a bit of a shock to me and Jay (I think I was around 14 and Jay around 7). Uncle Robert and Aunt Mary were very sweet to us, but it was just a big change for us. Aunt Mary had bought frozen yogurt bars for dessert, which must have just been a brand new creation at the time and obviously needed to mature as a product , because these were terrible! Of course we did not want to be rude. Jay and I were sitting there in the dining room trying to do our best to eat these indigestible things, and I noticed Jay had left. He came back a few minutes later and whispered to me “hey Janet, I just buried my frozen yogurt bar in the backyard, want me to bury yours too??’
Other silly things I remember is that Jay would get really scared if we watched a scary movie together. For the longest time as late as maybe 15 I would say he would put his hands over his face when it got to a scary scene, and he would get mad at me if I was starting to fall asleep during a scary movie and be like “Janet, wake up, wake up”.
He also liked his milk, really, really cold. When he started working, he would sometimes come home late and want the milk really cold. So the idea was to put it in the freezer for a little bit and then drink it. Well sometimes because it was late he fell asleep instead and my father would come down to an entire gallon of milk in the freezer frozen solid! I have a few memories of the early mornings where my father would go into the kitchen and be like “where’s the milk?? I know we had milk. Oh no….oh no….JAY JAY !!!!”
Jay’s eating habits were always somewhat interesting. When he was a kid he loved mayonnaise sandwiches for some bizarre reason. I still remember my Aunt Penny and cousin Clo (who was Jay’s godmother) coming to visit and it was Clo’s first time meeting Jay in years. Jay was around 4 or so, and asked her, do you know how to make mayonnaise sandwiches?? And Clo was nice enough to make him one, bless her.
Jay also was a big fan of the more butter, the better, and was a strong advocate for putting butter directly on chocolate chip cookies and steak.
Jay also helped me pick out my first new car, a Dodge Daytona. I had broken up with a boyfriend right after college who had handled all of my car maintenance, etc…..so I was pretty much left alone to figure out what to get when I got hired by IBM after college. Jay was great and helped me go to the dealership – he was only 15 but the guys at the dealership could already tell he knew a lot about cars and it helped I think a lot.
As Jay grew older, who always had a unique vision on everything. I remember when I started getting interested in baseball, especially with the 1986 New York Mets, and Jay was not that interested at all and I was like “how can you not follow any sports at all?” – and Jay said “Janet, the way I look at it, sports is just one more thing to worry about”.
I was always impressed with my brother, he worked so hard all the time, he was always doing something around the house. He was so proud of some of his creations in the house, when he added something to the heating system to reclaim energy, etc…..since I had a Mechanical Engineering degree long since discarded, he wanted me to come and listen as he showed me all the intricacies of what he did. It is actually silly when someone says that Paul, Kevin, or I looked down upon him since he did not have a 4-year degree. In my mind, my brother Jay was so much smarter than me in so many ways, not just mechanically, but in current events, politics – he could talk much more intelligently on a wide variety of topics than I ever could.
I was also amazed at his ability to walk into a gathering and have everyone laughing within minutes, me included. He was just a ton of fun.
Katie, Will and Jack. Your dad loved you a lot. I know he did, I saw him with all of you, holding you, singing to you, laughing with you, hugging you. And you need to know that our family will always be there for you, Paul, Angela, Andrew, Emily, Matthew, Kevin, me, Uncle Michael, Kathleen and Rebecca. We are your family, and we love you and we will always be here when you need us.