About two months ago, I sat with my breakfast buddy, Jim Norris, at Agolino’s Restaurant in West Pittston. Jim and I had been part of a breakfast crew of six for a number of years and usually there was a lot of banter with topics ranging from current news to ancient history.
Over the last few years, Tony “Sonny” Marseco and Pat Hudock passed away, Al (John) Greco at 93 could no longer make the trip and Ralph Nardell was on a different morning schedule, leaving just Jim and me.
Jim recently told me, “You know, it’s down to you and me and we have to keep this tradition going.” My response was, “Well, you better not be going anywhere too soon then.”
Jim died on Saturday, July 18 at the age of 65.
Jim knew he had an uphill battle with melanoma and he knew it was going to be a tough fight. He was really confident that he was going to beat this monster — so much so that he told me he wanted to take me to Cooperstown next summer. I’ve never been there and it’s a spot he loved.
When he told me about this new treatment he was going to try at Lehigh Valley Hospital, I was just as upbeat about his future as he was. I was hoping for the best and his enthusiasm was contagious. And even though he had a difficult time getting around with cancer that started in his leg, it didn’t stop him.
The breakfast crew
The breakfast crew took its first hit when Sonny died. It was tough losing Sonny to cancer and watching his candle slowly burn out over an 18-month period. If there’s anything I learned from Sonny: it’s to live and love life until you can’t anymore. Sonny did just that.
After losing Pat, we started to feel emptiness. Pat was the glue of the group and Jim had a fondness for him, knowing Pat was a World War II hero having been shot up during bombing raids in Europe. Jim was fascinated with Pat’s war stories and his accomplishments.
It was bad enough that Sonny and Pat passed away but our favorite waitress, Cindy Strelish, also tragically died too soon. We tried to forge on, but it was never the same.
I was to meet Jim for breakfast on a Thursday morning a few weeks back when the phone rang. It was Jim telling me he couldn’t make breakfast and he was back at Lehigh. The next words out of his mouth were, “They are stopping my treatments; they aren’t working.” Even then I never felt defeat from him and asked him about a Plan B. He said he had to wait to see what his doctor recommended. Plan B never happened.
The only thing I could say was what I learned from Sonny. “Well, Jim, you are just going to have to do until you can’t do anymore.”
I visited Jim at his house a few weeks ago where they were making him as comfortable as possible. He was still upbeat, still full of life, still a grateful, humble and honorable man. I will remember him like that.
Jim has touched thousands of lives over his years in education, sports and by being a humanitarian but if you read the comments in the online guest book online under his obituary, you’ll learn what an incredible individual he truly was.
This past spring, he was all excited about the Lady Warriors softball team. They had a legitimate chance to go deep into the playoffs and Jim had coached those same girls when they were in junior high. Even though his leg swelled four-times its size, he still made his way to the game.
The girls were so happy to see him and Jim never went anywhere empty-handed. He brought a bag full of sports programs and other items of interest to hand out. Those girls will never forget him, either.
I think I just might make that drive to Cooperstown next year and take my thoughts and memories of Jim with me so we can enjoy the trip together.
Quote of the week
“Let us put our hands today again at (God’s) disposition and pray that he takes our hands to guide us. Let his hand take ours so we won’t sink, but will serve life which is stronger than death, and love which is stronger than hatred.” – Pope Benedict XVI
Thought of the week
“Laugh as much as you breathe and love as long as you live.” – Author unknown
“Only a life lived for others is worth living.” – Albert Einstein