A few weeks ago, I wrote about Dean Joe Maguire, a mentor to me while I was at Holy Cross. After I graduated, we stayed in touch, and I was even able to visit him a few times when I was back on campus. Sadly, he passed away in December of 2002. I found out about his death when I got a call in the apartment where I was living, asking me to be a pallbearer. I was honored and humbled by this request, and thus far in my life, it’s the only time I’ve been a part of a funeral.
This presented a logistical dilemma: I was living in Chicago at the time and would need to fly to Boston, then drive to Worcester. At the time, American and United Airlines published fares in the latter part of the week for routes that did not have full flights for the upcoming weekend. As I recall, you needed to fly Saturday and come back on Monday. I was in luck that week - there were saver fares published from Chicago to Boston. Now the trick was getting a car and driving to Worcester.
One of my dearest friends, Jeff Haines, was living in Watertown at the time. We met teaching first grade in Boston, two Yankee fans educating the six-year-olds in Beantown! When I called and told him my story, he was happy to have us stay with him and would let us borrow his car for the day.
My then girlfriend (and now wife) and I left Chicago early that Saturday morning but with the usual delays in the crowded skies between the midwest and Boston landed close to 9:30 and needed to get to Worcester for an 11:00 funeral. It did not seem likely that we would make it on time. With no bags, we went right outside baggage claim, and Jeff was there. He jumped out of the car, pointed to the driver’s side, and told me to get in and drive.
Once we exited the airport, we began driving in what can only be described as a downpour. Several times the windshield wipers were on high as we started driving west on the Mass Pike. We chatted for a while, caught up a little bit, and as we approached the Watertown exit, I slowed the car off the ramp. I began to turn right to head toward Jeff’s house when he told me to stop the vehicle. “Let me out here,” he said. When I refused because of the rain, he responded, “There’s no way a pallbearer can be late for a funeral.” With that, he got out of the car, opened the back door for Michal, helped her into the front seat, and took off running home to his house.
I sat in the car, stunned. As I watched him disappear into the rain, soaking wet, Michal reminded me that we still had a funeral to go to. A funeral that I was unsure we would be able to get to before it began.
We got there on time, and I was able to fulfill my mentor’s wishes to be a part of his celebration of life.
We got there on time, and no one knew what we had gone through to get there.
We got there on time because of my friend who ran in the rain for me.
Dr. Brian G. Ricca is Superintendent of Schools in St. Johnsbury.