George’s father died this past Tuesday. His heart simply stopped while he was sitting in his favorite chair, and though he was resuscitated and taken to the hospital, it was pretty quickly apparent that he’d endured a game-changing cardiac event. In the end it was peaceful and he went with a minimum of suffering (if indeed, at the very end, there was any at all), with family in the room with him, which is what I think most of us hope for, when you come to hoping about that sort of thing.
Charlie Potor led an enviable life. It wasn’t one in which he was surrounded by lavish wealth and overindulgence. He wasn’t the star of a reality TV show. And he didn’t have the need to make himself feel better by making the people around him feel small. Rather, he worked for forty years as a sheet metal worker in a union shop, which was a job he honestly felt good about doing. He married a beautiful, gracious woman who he loved and who loved him back, right up until the day he died. (One of my favorite anecdotes about their relationship: a granddaughter asked him one day, “Pop, how come you wear your glasses when you nap?” and he said, “So I can still see your grandmother in my dreams.”) Together they raised four sons, all of whom grew into honest, responsible, gentle, considerate men who in turn have raised or are raising diligent, thoughtful children of their own.
Charlie loved sports of all kinds. He was a huge Yankees fan. One day over dinner he told me a story about he and his best friend getting on a train to New York and attending open tryouts for the New York Rangers–I was charmed while George sat stunned next to me, since this story was as new to him as it was to me. He was a member of the Rutherford High School Athletic Hall of Fame, and at the basketball game held at the high school on the day of his wake, the school honored him with a moment of silence before the game, which was unprecedented.
Charlie wore a sense of relentless positivity like it was a tattoo and drew people to him wherever he went. Breakfast at his favorite corner restaurant usually involved a mini-meet-n-greet with at least four or five people who would stop at the table to say hello. Dinner out was more of the same, and even though they were different crowds he knew them all. I went to Rutherford’s Memorial Day parade with him this year and in nearly every group participating in the parade, at least one (and usually more) of the marchers walked over to shake his hand. But that’s how he was. He legitimately liked people and was constantly encouraging: you can make that foul shot, you can get your Master’s degree, you can do the hard Sudoku, you can quit smoking. He was proud of his family, proud of the town he lived in, and interested in anything relevant to his family and his home town, especially if there was a positive slant to the story. The only things I remember him being actively not positive about (aside from the expected stuff; I mean, he had absolutely no taste for violence or mayhem, like any responsible citizen would) were vegetables. He gave vegetables the hand every time.
On the day of his funeral, we gathered at the funeral home beforehand to say final goodbyes, and some of the family got up to say something–anything–and only if they wanted to do so. So the following paragraph is what George put together.
Dad set an example for all around him. He fixed things when they broke. The consummate inventor, Pop would rig anything with duct tape and pop rivets. In his workshops in the garage or upstairs, he built things, kind, wonderful things, for people to use and enjoy. Newcomers to the family knew they were welcomed when a stocking with their name on it showed up over the mantel. Charlie loved sports, especially for kids, especially for the way they helped build character. Grandpa did what was right and showed us how to do right. Poppie loved and supported the Potor family quietly and constantly. Dad was the guy you could count on. He was honest, hard-working, and loved to laugh. We all knew the twinkle in his eye. We’ll miss him, but we know he had a good run and left us inspired to live life fully and generously.
So thank you, Charlie Potor. Thank you for your positivity and your encouragement. Thanks for the driving tours of Rutherford, where you pointed out George’s old school and someone or other’s house or the former site of a store you’d get bread from when you were a boy. Thanks for the stories. Thanks for George, and the rest of your wonderful, interesting, welcoming, sincere, slightly loopy family. Thanks for making it so easy for me to feel like family. You may have had a good run, but that doesn’t make your leaving any easier.