Gene loved to watch basketball, read historical fiction and non-fiction, practice piano, play with dogs, garden, drink and eat. His backyard was covered with roses of all colors--yellow had been his former wife’s favorite--and on the far right side of the garden, there was a wired lot just for orchids. If you have ever raised an orchid, you’d know that they are extremely difficult to maintain. Two of my orchids, both gifts from Gene, have withered during the nearly ten years that I’ve known him; none of his have yet passed away.
On Wednesday evenings, we’d frequently wander the outdoor green market in search of strawberries, broccoli rabe, onions, beautifully misshapen heirloom tomatoes, and of course, his favorite, organic roasted chicken, which he’d sneak tastes from during the drive home. He always attempted to do it discretely, and I believe he thought he succeeded at hiding his mid-drive “snack,” but I could always smell the grill, the basil, and lemon as soon as he opened the lid. And at dinnertime, I simply pretended not to notice the missing chunks of chicken.
Gene knew the value of time more than most of us could claim to. The love of his life and dear wife, Bonnie, had passed away from a stroke in 1996. Posters and funeral pamphlets featuring her charming smile are still pinned to every wall in the house. She lives through him--the photos he cherishes, the stories he tells us about the life they made together.
Both he and his wife had been concert pianists, and they would often play duets together. Even after her passing, he continued to play without restraint. I would often nestle on the carpet next to a brown leather sofa near his piano, losing myself to the concertos that overtook the room.
He never let himself mourn openly, but it was clear that this was a man who had not only lost his wife but also his best friend. Yet after her passing, he pushed himself to do more for both of them. He didn’t seclude himself to grief; instead he continued to open himself up to the world and to cherish every moment that he had left.
I would often find him out in the garden, kneeling in the dirt, clipping the extra leaves off his rose bushes so that the flowers could bloom properly. When I was busy in the kitchen or working, he often cuddled with my two dogs and gave them treats for doing tricks. He once told me that he would have loved to raise a dog by himself, but he was a thoughtful man who wasn’t afraid of talking about his future. He knew there was a possibility that one day he would not be able to care for the dog, and he couldn’t bear the thought of leaving the dog alone.
Besides gardening and dog training, Gene also loved reading. He ordered stacks of history books and read through them week by week--a feat that most men would not be able to accomplish, even if they had the extra time.
During basketball season, he cheered enthusiastically for the Lakers and the Golden State Warriors. He knew the players by name and enjoyed berating the referees for making the wrong calls or for not calling out obvious fouls.
Gene was amazing. There is no other word to describe him. He inspired people with his knowledge, charisma, and willpower. And he never ceased to make others smile even during the darkest times. He was a man who truly understood the value of a single second.