joannebest











 

 

bestfamilyI was barely 5 years old the day I met my baby brother for the first time. Excited beyond belief at the thought of no longer being the youngest, I was going to have a tiny little brother to fuss over. I was sure life was going to be wonderful and I was going to be the best big sister that ever existed.

I remember every detail of that day, the clothes I wore, the constant trips to the window impatiently waiting for Dad’s Rambler to pull into the driveway bringing my Mom and new little brother home. After what seemed like forever, they finally got home and I ran as fast as my little legs would carry me. In a portent of things to come, I grabbed onto the porch railing, my soft little hand landing squarely on a very angry bee who decided it was more important to sting me rather than welcome the new arrival to the Best Family. In retrospect, I should have realized what life with Tommy would become.

Never boring.

It wasn’t long after his arrival that the two of us contacted a nasty case of chicken pox, our poor Mom spent half the time applying calamine lotion and the rest of the time trying to convince us to not scratch, not an easy feat when you’re dealing with a newborn baby and a 5 year old, but we made it through unscathed.

Living in Newark raising 3 young children didn’t last long as our Parents decided it was time to move to the suburbs, and before we knew it, we were living in Sayreville NJ, a 4 bedroom house giving each of us kids our very own bedroom. There was a 5 year age difference between the 3 of us, so in a way, Donald was almost a generation older than Tommy. Being in the middle, as well as being the only girl-child, it fell to me to keep an eye on Tommy.

Believe me, it sounds a lot easier than it was. Tommy had a lust for life and a fearless nature from the day he was born and he never lost that. Nothing scared him, nothing kept him from living life to the fullest on his own terms.

I have so many memories of growing up with Tommy I could easily fill a book long enough to rival War and Peace, but I would like to share just a few.

As most of you know, Tommy loved music and was a drummer in a few bands, most notably, Genocide. His obsession with drums began before he could even talk. We had an ongoing feud when we were kids that could be broken down into 2 sentences: Tommy complaining to our Mom about my neverending singing. “Ma! Make her stop singing!” he would say constantly, to which I would reply, “Ma! Make him stop playing drums!” It didn’t take long for us to realize this was a battle neither of us would ever win as he grew up to be a drummer in a band and I became a singer in another band . Tommy never needed a drum set back then and he didn’t need drumsticks, he would use anything he could get his hands on, including his fingers to bang away on any and every thing in his sight. One 4th of July he marched around the house using a garbage can lid and a red magic marker as a makeshift drum set. In true Tommy fashion, the marker exploded, covering Tommy from head to toe in what looked like blood but turned out to be magic marker.

When I was around 17 years old and heavily obsessed with the Punk scene, I got it in my mind that Tommy should have a drum set. I brokered a deal with one of my President Park Punk friends and lo and behold, at the age of 12, Tommy got his first drum set. Now although our musical tastes were similar, we had to keep it on the down-low. It wasn’t cool for a brother and sister to share too much at that age, but when he didn’t know I was in the house, I caught him switching his Iron Maiden and ACDC albums to my “borrowed” Ramones and Dead Boys albums. I never let on that I knew, but I was secretly pleased that we were becoming closer, at least when we were out of the public eye.

Fast forward a few years and before I knew it, somehow Tommy’s friends and my friends became one and the same for the most part. We drifted apart a bit after Tommy got married and had 3 children, but I was so proud of him whenever I saw him with his children. He lived and breathed for Tommy, Danny and Alexa. There was nothing more important to him than his children, he loved them with every ounce of his being and in fact the last words Tommy said to me was this : “If anything happens to me, please make sure my kids are taken care of.” I didn’t think much of this and in fact asked him why he was talking like that. I knew he was having problems with his heart but I also knew that there was nothing that could take him down. Not Tommy. He was, as our Dad used to say “Strong like bull”, he lived through war and made it back, there was no way any kind of illness would defeat him. He lived through a nasty divorce which I won’t describe out of respect for his children, but I will say that after his divorce, he had the most difficult years of his entire life.

He lost his home and Family in one fell swoop without warning and moved back home with our Parents. After a week of so he broke his leg yet it didn’t stop him. Very soon thereafter Hurricane Irene did a number on our Family home and by the Grace of God, Tommy, hearing a loud boom ran downstairs, broken leg and all, called 911 and got our Mom and Dad out of the house before the entire house collapsed. I shudder to think what would have happened to them if Tommy hadn’t been there that night.

As soon as the State of Emergency was lifted, Mom, Dad, and Tommy moved in with my husband Mike and me and my sister-in-law Pat. It was a full house, with 6 adults, 2 dogs, and 3 cats, but we made it work. After Mom and Dad found an apartment to live in until the house was repaired, Tommy continued to live with us for nearly a year. When Christmas rolled around, Tommy was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to give anyone any gifts. Every penny he had went to his children yet still he worried about us. As long as I live I will never ever forget that Christmas morning. Santa, in his infinite wisdom, delivered a stack of gifts from Tommy to all of us. Now I’m the first one to admit we tend to go overboard when it comes to Christmas morning, we always feel a childlike joy when it comes to giving to others and that year was no different. We spent hours unwrapping gifts, and as the morning progressed I noticed Tommy would get up periodically and leave the room. It wasn’t until a few days later when the two of us were alone in the house that Tommy told me that this particular Christmas was the best Christmas he celebrated in his entire life. Never in his life, he said, had he received so many gifts as he did that year. He also filled me in on a little secret I wasn’t aware of, Christmas day, my husband Mike took Tommy aside privately and gave him a Christmas card containing quite a few hundred dollar bills. Tommy tried to give it back but we have a rule, no such thing as take-backs when it comes to gifts. That was the first time in my life I ever saw my 6’3″ baby brother cry tears of happiness, love, and acceptance.

I’ve written a lot of words here in an attempt to give you a little insight into the Tommy you may not have known. He was a gentle giant, a big guy with a heart of gold, he would give the shirt off his back to anyone in need. He was a quiet hero, helping anyone, whether he knew them or not. One day, Tommy and his Family were driving back from a day trip and saw a terrible accident on the Garden State Parkway, a van full of people had crashed, rolling over trapping everyone inside. Without a thought for his own safety, Tommy literally crawled through broken glass and got every single person out of that van, covering them up with his own jacket and sweaters and anything else he could find. He even crawled back in one more time when one of the passengers realized his medication was in the front seat of the van. By the time the EMT’s and Police arrived on the scene, everyone was safely out of the vehicle, Tommy told the Police what happened and like a true Angel, Tommy disappeared, never getting credit nor wanting credit. Because that is who Tommy was. And that is who Tommy always will be, an unsung hero who will live on through his children, and a never to be forgotten baby brother, living on in my heart for the rest of my days.

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bowie rip 1.11.16
“Oh no love, you’re not alone”
I’m finding it hard to string a sentence together right now, unexpectedly choked up about someone I never met and I know I’m not alone.
Rock stars come and go, they influence us, they encourage us, they lift us up when we’re down and make us cry when we need an excuse to reveal our emotions. They can define us, give us something to cling to when we are lost and broken, give us something to hold on to when we are frozen and can’t take one more step forward.
David Bowie captured everything we freaks suffered every day and welcomed us, encouraged us, gave us a place to drift to when we were overwhelmed and alone.
He wrapped his words around us and let us know we weren’t alone, influenced generations, kicked opened closet doors and told us, “it ain’t easy” but it’s worth it, we can let our freak-flag fly high and proud, and it was alright, we could all be rock and roll stars.
Growing up in suburban New Jersey wasn’t always easy if you didn’t fit the cookie cutter mold of a blue-collar town but David Bowie gave us a glimpse into what life could be like if we just stayed true to ourselves and didn’t worry about the whisperings behind closed living-room curtains when we walked down the street.
He showed us we were all limitless, we really could touch the stars if we just reached out and shrugged off the mud slung our way. He gave us courage, strength when we needed it most, there at the tip of our fingers and the drop of a needle on vinyl.
Inspiration to become ourselves.
Nearly every band I’ve loved has, at one time or another, done their own version of a David Bowie song, including my own band. Standing onstage singing a Bowie song was a rite of passage in my circle of friends, a sign to everyone that yes, I’m a freak too, just like you, and isn’t it grand?
No-one but his closest friends and family knew he had cancer, so the world woke up to a gut-punch this morning. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was awakened by a text or phone call from a dear friend telling me the terrible news that Ziggy Stardust was no longer with us here on earth.
Rest in peace Mr. Bowie, you are now a true star, a starman waiting in the sky, making the Heavens glow brighter, a celebration of music left behind in your wake.
And all the children will continue to boogie, for you taught us all, we are not alone.
Watch me now….



me and mom“Mothers hold their children’s hands for just a little while, and their hearts forever”~ Irish proverb ~
Someone much wiser than me recently told me my Mother flows through my veins, that every pump of my heart pushes part of her through my body and my mind, so she will always be with me. Always. It wasn’t until I was a few miles away from Cape May that I began to feel anxious the other day, uneasy almost, as if I’d left something behind when I packed my bags to head north. Which, of course, I had, when I stood alone on the slippery jetties and scattered my Mother’s ashes where she wanted them, in the Atlantic Ocean off Cape May beach.
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In the last ten years or so, Mom and I started a new tradition, 2 to 3 visits a year to Cape May, just the two of us. The only rule we had was we had to stay at The Victorian and we had to stay no less than 5 days. We began to think of The Victorian as our home away from home, always warmly welcomed as Mom checked in because I couldn’t stop petting the cat all cozied up on a comfy chair purring away in tandem with the thumping of the dog’s tail. We didn’t even care if we left the room, although we did spend many hours wandering through the most beautiful town in the world. What mattered was the talking. Two best friends talking who just happened to be Mother and Daughter. Those are the times I cherish most.
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Everything happens for a reason some say, and I’m still trying to figure out the reason Mother Nature decided Saint Patrick’s Day, the day I planned to bring Mom to her final resting place, was a good day to dump 7 inches of snow in Cape May while leaving the rest of NJ alone.
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But I was on a mission.
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After a longer than usual drive into howling wind, freezing temperatures, and snow nearly up to my knees in some drifts, I trudged my way, Mom in hand, down to the surf.
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I don’t remember ever being so cold and I talked to Mom as we got closer to the waves crashing over the jetties.
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My closest friend Shawn came with me so I wouldn’t have to be alone, but since she knows me so well, she understood my need to scatter Mom’s ashes by myself, but in true Best Friend Form, she walked with me to the beach, staying back just a bit so I could say my final goodbyes, just me and Mom, alone together for the last time.
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Is there ever enough time to say everything you want to say to someone? Usually we put it off or hope they just know how we feel.
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I am so Blessed to have a Mother who taught me to always say ‘I Love You’, so thankful that we never even ended a phone call without saying it to each other, and beyond grateful that the last words we said to each other were “I Love You”.
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Is it possible to feel relief and dread at the same time? Relieved that my sweet beautiful Mother is in that good place now, yet dreading each day without her in my life. I will never say goodbye to Mom, I will say until we meet again, I will feel your presence with each breath I take, feel you watching over me as you did all my life.
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And most of all, I will love you for the rest of my days, until I see you again.
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Rest In Peace, my beautiful Mother.
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From Buffy The Vampire Slayer ~ The Body
Anya (crying): But I don’t understand! I don’t understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she’s, there’s just a body, and I don’t understand why she just can’t get back in it and not be dead anymore! It’s stupid! It’s mortal and stupid! And, and Xander’s crying and not talking, and, and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever, and she’ll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why. (She puts her hand over her face, crying.)

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My own version of the yellow brick road, where life is magical and anything is possible.
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2010-10-25 11.55.41 This is a piece of the North Tower, a symbol of the strength and resilience of We The People. We will never forget.

AUTHORS NOTE: There is a park at the end of the street where I live. It’s a nice sized park, with a pond in the middle where a person can fish if so inclined, a playground area for the little ones and a baseball field used mainly for the Little Leaguers. It’s large enough for twice-a-year carnivals and, whenever the occasion calls for it, fireworks displays extravagant enough that I only need to walk outside and look up. Right in the middle of the park there is a War Memorial dedicated to those who served and lost their lives in numerous wars. As beautiful as it is, it pains me to see the 9-11 Memorial, a constant reminder of how ugly life can get.
We lost three from our town, which is, sadly, a small number compared to all the lives lost that day.

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et cetera