Claverack, New York
Body/Soul | Fiction/Memoir
14 November 2019 08:59AM

I was honored to give the following eulogy for James Cashen at St. James Church:

I am Vincent E. Varriale. I hear, through the grapevine, that I am being seriously considered for the honorary title of Cashen Family Son #3. Thank you. I accept. When I lived with the Cashens, in short order I was crowned “Prince Vince” by the younger contingent of my newly acquired family. “Wow, they actually think I am a Prince”. I thought they were a little naïve.

Sometime into my stay, actually upon the arrival of “Fast Eddie”, when I found myelf slightly removed from the limelight, it finally dawned on me that the grand title “Prince Vince” was not all meant to be a compliment.

I want to let all Big Jim’s immediate family (Big Meg, Little Jim, Katie, Betsy, Joey, Kelly, Judy, Little Meg, Jenny and Chris) that living with you-all was the closest thing for me to living in heaven on earth. No other time in my life have I felt this way than when I was under Big Jim’s roof with all of you. I felt safe, secure, and loved. No words can adequately describe the depth of gratitude I have to Big Jim and all of you for a chance at a second beginning of the rest of my life. I love all of you as family. Your joys are my joys. Your sorrows are my sorrows.

Big Jim, to me, was my second #1 father, the most influential man in my life out-side my birth father, a man who believed in me even before I earned it and before I truly believed in myself. The day I arrived to live at the Cashens, Big Jim gives me a great big Big Jim hug and Big Jim big smile and said, “Welcome to our home.”

I instinctively froze. ”This cannot be right or good.” On the second day, I learn that I do not have to pay for my meals. ”Work it out in trade”, Jim and Meg said. In the days that followed, I would sometimes overhear them tell their many closest friends that I was a gift, that I was someone special.

Big Jim protected me from all foe, even if it was family. A tiny example: Big Jim takes me out to lunch, one on one, as a reward for exceptional effort on some house chore (very special treatment I learned later). We arrive back at the farmhouse. ”What did you have for lunch,” I was asked by a chorus of young voices, all under 10, I, at 23, relaxed, confident, off-guard, say “Oh nothing much, a hamburger.” “How was it?,” they ask. “Oh, not so good,” I flippantly say in playful sarcasm, not at all prepared for the inevitable flanking move. Just then, as Big Jim walks in, the chorus chirps up. “Prince Vince said lunch was horrible!!!!!!!” “I did not!” “Yes, you did!” I lose my first battle before it started, My heart is beating faster now and I feel my face getting hot. I know I will start sweating at any second. Big Jim immediately senses my impossible position. “Okay. That’s enough!” Whew!

Honesty, integrity, hard work, self reliance, self discipline, independence, healthy diet and sleep, a healthy respect and disrespect for authority. A fierce loyalty to the doctrine that truth can only come from facts based on scientific certainties obtained through keen observations and deductive reasoning in a practical linear type of logical thinking. Patience in the art of learning fine motor skills, the importance of trusting no one, never backing down in a fight, how to wage and win a defensive battle against the ills of our society, major warnings about advertising, religions. False-hoods intended to put us to sleep and keep us there, were my takeaways.

Some challenges other than the immediate food and shelter needs that weighed most heavily upon my being as I left my birth father’s home: Does love actually exist? Is it real? Does free will actually exist?. Do we as humans, as humanity actually have a purpose?” Go and come back with answers. I can still hear the request instilled in me years before I actually left.

How do I explain the tremendous love I felt from my mom, from him or the love I felt for them. When I did leave, I was determined to prove my birth father wrong,
using the impressive skill set he had gifted me. I never did prove him wrong, nor had satisfactory answers for any of the bigger questions. Love is a fantasy. There is no purpose. The obvious conclusions have bothered me for years.

It’s okay to cry, to hug, to show emotions as a man to another man, To champion the underdog and those who are in an unfortunate circumstance. To value the relationship over the need to be right. Measured discipline. (This came a little late to help Fast Eddie in the kitchen.) To wage a positive offensive war for what is inherently good in our society and our collective humanity. To donate much time, money, and personal energy for causes larger than oneself that benefitted the larger community and not for personal gain. To value each side of an argument equally before seeking to resolve a dispute.

How to write an effective to-do list and how to rewrite that same list over and over and over. How to unabashedly and openly root for the Giants in true fanatic fashion. (I wisely hid my Redskin stuff tucked deep into my drawer during my stay.) Treating each and every person with interest, dignity and respect. To share equally the leadership of a family with a strong and loving woman. From where I stood, it was hard to tell who was actually running the show, or if anyone was running the show. The magic I felt came in the form of a singular unified force emanating from an inseparable tag team permanently committed to each other and the mission of serving others. Big Meg’s energy seemed to concentrate on the individual in the moment. Big Jim, who could sometimes seem detached from the moment and those close to him, focusing more on the future, for the many.

When I left the Cashens, I was most definitely re-energized, but I still did not know why. Most of the questions started with a question about how to formulate the question. so I put them in a deep storage box and moved on with my life.

As I most recently and sadly learned of Big Jim’s misfortunes, I was inwardly moved to bring up those many questions and challenges of so many years ago and my inner being raced to once again find answers. It was during these reflections of liv-ing under my birth father’s roof, living under Big Jim’s roof, the raising of my own family as a father and husband, that things started to make sense to me. The greatest and most treasured gift Big Jim bestowed upon me; administered in minute doses, by daily example, and half the time I don’t even think he was conscious of, actually knew he was instilling them in me. I don’t even know if he fully believed in them—habits are funny things—and I was most of the time equally unconscious of the gifts or of how I was actually receiving them. Living in faith was a totally unheard of possibility for me, knowing my ego and my intellect and my earlier rigorous training to the contrary.

Big Jim and Big Meg patiently and gently walked me on a path, where the goal, I concluded much later, was to release one’s mind from the need to be in constant
control of everything, The releasing of mental control was the only way to allow what was inherently in our hearts and its connection to the larger universe, in whatever form, religious affiliation or otherwise the individual is receptive to, to step forward and reveal itself, its intelligence, its overwhelming superiority, and rightful navigator of our souls, our spirits.

Faith, a constant work in progress to be sure, has been for me the most logical way to find those truths associated with being human, our purpose, and the existence of love.

Thank you, Big Jim. As with my birth father, the best parts of your grand spirit will be permanently etched in my heart. I will miss you. I love you.

(The photo above is of my wedding. My wife and I are flanked by Jim and Meg.)

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