On My Mind

Hitting the “Father-in-Law Jackpot”

November 21st, 2013 by Julie Silver

This morning I am thinking about Vincent Connelly who passed away exactly one year ago. In the “in-law” department, I truly hit the jackpot. Vinnie was a masterpiece, a gentle cowboy from the Bronx who taught me how to love New York City, Zabar’s coffee, crosswords, cheese trays and Christmas. My father-in-law wore many hats–top, straw, beret, bowler, skull cap, you name it, he wore it on his head with a long white ponytail hanging gracefully past his shoulders. He wore bow ties, neck ties, and bolo ties with equal flair. On New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day, strangers on the street wanted to be photographed with him he’d look so beautiful, so classic.

Vinnie called everyone he loved “poddner”. We had just met when, sitting at a sushi place, I tried to convince Vinnie that Green Tea Ice Cream should be sold in bulk at Baskin and Robbins, that it was so delicious that “normal people would buy it and love it”. He looked up slowly from his tuna roll and said “You’re not normal, poddner.” On Christmas morning, if a sweater he bought for one of us didn’t fit he’d say “It looked good on the dummy.” After receiving something–a gift, a bit of help–anything, he’d say “You’re a sweetheart, sweetheart.”

When Vinnie entered the room, you had to stand up.

He meditated daily, retreating to private places or surrounded by the loving chaos of his growing family, letting the world embrace him as he embraced the world. He loved the writing of Thomas Merton. He recited AA Milne to his grandchildren. On Friday evenings, he played the broadcast of Park Avenue Synagogue’s Shabbat services on WNYC in the kitchen. On Christmas, we listened to Vince Guaraldi on a loop! We would sit on his bed, his command center, listening to Ella, Patsy Cline, Peggy Lee–all jazz. I loved listening to music with him. I loved arriving in New York knowing he’d be home to greet me every time I walked in the door. “I’ll be sitting on the curb waiting for you, poddner,” he’d say.

Vinnie was equally at home sitting at Bob’s Lake watching a glorious Canadian sunset, his laptop connected to a 50 foot power cord running through the woods, or walking the Upper East Side at midnight, to “kick a few tires” and make sure everything was OK on Carnegie Hill. After a White Owl and a stroll, maybe even a visit to Finnegan’s with his pals, he’d come back at 2AM and serve himself and anyone who was awake at that hour cheesecake and fresh whipped cream which he would make right then and there in his dimly lit kitchen. I used to get nervous about him leaving the apartment when we were all about to fall asleep. I never thought the sound of an electric hand mixer at 2AM would ever bring me such comfort. “He’s home,” I’d think, waking up in bed.

To Vinnie, the bigger the holiday party the better. If one could breathe or move about easily in his living room, then the party wasn’t exactly what he had hoped for. There was always room for more people at the table, more visitors, all day every day. He blessed our Thanksgiving meal with wisdom and grace. He gave my wife and me a marriage blessing underneath the chuppah. He was pure love.

I will never forget this man who raised my wife to be kind, generous, to love her life, and I know exactly why Mary says yes when the world says no.

I rise today in gratitude, to remember the man who brought so much faith and joy to the world.

“Again we say, Rejoice!”