My dad doesn’t count his birthdays anymore. He did at one time, but four years ago, he moved on to bigger and better things, at age 96.
But I still count them and today, August 20, is Larry’s 100th birthday. I don’t think anything short of this milestone has touched my emotions as much since he left us.
In the larger scheme of things, he was on the Earth for but a few seconds, as are we all. But what a few seconds his nearly century of life was.
He was born to far from well-to-do parents, but they were rich with the simple things. Larry was born in Fall River on Barnes Street. Fittingly enough, without my even knowing where he was born at the time, Denise and I and the three kids rented an apartment on Barnes Street in the early 90s.
Larry’s mom, my mémère, Laura, died of TB at age 33, when dad was six, and his baby sister, Connie, was three or four. He did remember her though, often speaking of her in his final days battling the cruel dementia disease. In the hallway at Catholic Memorial Home was a painting of a young mom hanging clothes with two young children nearby — a boy and girl. Larry could see it from his bed and often told me that was his mom, Connie and him.
As a boy, Larry didn’t have much of a childhood. He spent much of his time helping at home, in the garden, delivering papers, delivering ice, working on an apple farm, a turkey farm and when he had time, attended school — never finishing eighth grade. Add to that the chore of bringing his dad his lunch pail at a nearby factory every day.
His childhood did allow him time to roam the forbidden grounds of the North Watuppa, making it his personal playground, all while monitoring the game wardens. He fished there and picked berries.
Larry’s young adult life didn’t get any easier — largely because of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, drawing the U.S. into an already worldwide conflict.
Instead of waiting to get drafted, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, gambling on a term as long as the war lasted rather than a six-year hitch. It saved him two years.
Half of his time in the South Pacific was aboard the U.S.S. Meade, a destroyer built to protect its sister ships, particularly the mammoth battleships.
At CMH, he often told me harrowing tales of sea battles, and also tending to his wounded shipmates, “feeding them with a spoon, like babies.”
After Larry died, I was going through his things and found a small three-inch-by-two-inch book that was his diary at sea. The entry that stands out most to me, and still brings a tear to my eye simply says: “All hell broke loose today.” I will never know that feeling. No one should, but thousands have and still do.
Larry not only had compassion for his shipmates, but also for the Japanese soldiers, who were in the same situation as he and his mates: pawns in a deadly game run by politicians. He often spoke of his ship sinking a Japanese submarine. As he watched the vessel rise vertically to the surface, then do a 180-degree dive into the sea, he imagined what the men inside were going through. It haunted him forever.
Larry survived, and made a surprise return to his boyhood home on Smithies Street in Fall River, where his dad, step-mom and brother and sisters were, on Christmas Eve, 1946.
After the war, Larry continued to help around the home and also worked, when he eventually met Millie and married, having my brother Paul and me four years later.
I have warm memories of him as a dad: Saturday evening walks to Arlan’s on Plymouth Avenue, just he and I; fishing and crabbing (although I found that boring — sports were my thing); and ice skating. Mom and dad also took my brother and me on numerous road trips all over New England and beyond. Larry would spend hours planning each trip.
When Denise and I got married, he helped us out as much as he could. He helped everyone out as much as he could. Refinishing furniture, repairing broken appliances, giving rides to doctors. Never did he throw anything away without trying to fix it first. Must have been that Depression Era syndrome. If someone needed something, Larry was there.
A lasting memory I have is of him and I standing on a hill at Notre Dame Cemetery in a driving rainstorm, choosing a plot to bury my son, his grandson, Davey.
He was a mild-mannered man, but stern. The only time I ever saw him blow a gasket is when I blew a gasket on my old Plymouth Fury III station wagon — by not checking the oil. Oh boy!
When he retired he was always busy in his basement workshop, in his or a neighbor’s garden, traveling with Millie. He even took a job as a caretaker of a local Synagogue. They loved the little Catholic boy!
As he aged, his body and his mind failed him often, and I did everything I could for him. The nut doesn’t fall far from the tree.
He spent nearly six years in the dementia ward at CMH, with good days and bad days. I can’t count the times I took that elevator ride down, alone, just crying.
It’s ironic that Holy Union Sister Barbara Kirkman is on page one of this edition — she was a bastion of support for me and Larry during the final years, months and days. Thank you, Sister.
When he peacefully went to sleep, he had full military honors at the National Cemetery in Bourne, and when “Taps” was played, there was a flyover of choppers from Otis AFB. Our host said it was a coincidence. I don’t think so. He was one of the last of the WWII survivors still around. I believe that was planned.
Facebook recently had a post that asked, “What thing did your dad best teach you?” The answer was simple: “How to be a dad.”
The Earth carries reminders of meteors that crashed into its surface thousands of years ago. Larry, too, left a mark on this Earth that can never be eroded, erased or forgotten. In that regard, Larry was a meteor of a man, and my dad. Happy 100th Loridas “Larry” Jolivet.