Note: The death of Ann Alaimo last Friday, Feb. 22, brought a flood of memories about visits to her home in the late ’80s and early ’90s to spend time with her and her children and especially her husband, whom we all affectionately called “Big Sam.” Big Sam, who passed away in 1994, became a quadriplegic in 1981. For 13 years, he could not move a muscle from his neck down, breathing only with the assistance of a respirator. And for those 13 years, Ann was by his side caring for him. I wrote a blog today about Ann, but decided also to reprint this, which I wrote in November of 2015. I just re-read it and concluded it’s high time I read “Tuesdays with More,” which I have yet to do.
I never read “Tuesdays with Morrie.”
I wouldn’t. Or couldn’t. Or both.
See, “Tuesdays with Morrie” was supposed to be my book. It’s title was supposed to be “Big Sam.”
But Mitch Albom got there first. Or, more precisely, acted on his instincts when I did not. And it hurts.
When Mitch visited his old professor Morrie every Tuesday, he knew there was something in those visits to share. Was he ever right. “Tuesdays with Morrie” is considered the best selling memoir of all time.
But I’m pretty sure I was visiting Big Sam Alaimo on a regular basis before Mitch reunited with Morrie. Big Sam was a quadriplegic. I had a telephone relationship with him long before a surgical procedure, as I understand it, left him breathing on a respirator and unable to move a single muscle from his neck down. In those early days, he coached a Teeners League baseball team and called in the results every Saturday to the kid sports reporter at the local weekly, me.
I never met Big Sam face to face until he was confined to a bed in what used to be his family’s living room. But once I did, I kept going back. So did many of his old friends. I often thought we weren’t actually stopping by to cheer up Sam, we were going there for him to cheer up us. He was magical.
Big Sam used to tell me he was “nothing but a brain,” and so as he lay awake at night with his whole family asleep he would exercise his mind by working out mathematical problems. Other times he’d just contemplate life.
I always wanted to give Big Sam a tape recorder to talk into during those nights. I also always wanted to take notes when I visited.
“There’s a book in Big Sam,” I thought. And there was. Unfortunately, Mitch Albom wrote it.
And just the mention of his name caused me pain.
So I was in a real bind a few years back when a student handed me a copy of “The Five People You Meet in Heaven,” Mitch Albom’s second book. I pledge to read any book a student recommends, so I had no choice but to open it. “Maybe I’ll discover he’s a lousy writer,” I thought. “There’d be justice in that, or at least relief.”
Who was I kidding? Mitch Albom can tell a story. I blew through “The Five People” in one day.
That was several years ago and I successfully had put Mitch out of my mind. But early this semester a student, a young Hispanic girl for whom English is a second language, told me the only book she ever read was “Tuesdays with Morrie.” She said she loved it.
I asked her about “The Five People” and when she said she never heard of it, I told her I would buy her a copy. When I did, I bought a second one, hoping another student would snatch it up. But none did and it lay on my desk at the college for a good month.
Then one Friday, Oct. 30 to be exact, as I left for the weekend, it seemed to call to me. So I took it home figuring I’d read it again. I glanced at the first few pages and smiled because while I remembered the story, I had forgotten the main character was named Eddie.
Eddie dies as the book opens. In an accident at an amusement park where he worked as a maintenance man while attempting to save the life of a little girl. He is 84 years old.
What I also forgot is that the tale goes through Eddie’s entire life, from the time he is born, and several chapters begin with the line: Today is Eddie’s birthday.
I remembered that when I picked up the book again on Monday, Nov. 2, and read “Today is Eddie’s birthday,” which is my own birthday. I’m not kidding.
What is it with Mitch Albom and me?
I am writing this on a Friday evening. I normally file my Friday blog first thing Friday morning but I plum forgot. I have a good excuse, I think. I had a colonoscopy today. Which means that from about 7 p.m. Wednesday night until about 2:20 p.m. today I had no solid food. It also means that I spent last night forcing down 64 ounces of lemon-lime Gatorade with a good sized bottle of powdered Miralax mixed in. It means other things which I will leave for you to figure out for yourself.
On Wednesday, my nephew had dropped by with a belated birthday gift, Mitch Albom’s “The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto.” As you can imagine, this is a good day for reading, so I took it along to the surgery center. I am now 250 pages into it and may well finish it tonight. It’s that good.
It may sound weird. but the story is told through the eyes of Music. Yes, Music. This, appearing on page 2, had me hooked:
All humans are musical. Why else would the Lord give you a beating heart?
I want to dislike Mitch Albom for writing Morrie when I failed to write Big Sam. But he’s making it harder and harder.