, Newburyport, MA


May 27, 2013

Remembering a family's demise


Tom O’Brien was a tough man, a catcher in his day. He was both critical and colorful. I still remember his barbs — “You couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with a snow shovel.”

Tom also had another son, Terry, who was, how do I say this? “Different.” Still, he lived independently, and he for years helped out with the high school sports teams. Both he and his father are now in the Athol High School Athletic Hall of Fame, one as “Coach,” the other as “Contributor.” Terry also served as a volunteer fireman. He had an impeccable memory for dates and certain facts, but, still, something was different.

Christopher was the hope for the long-range future.

But the future ended in Vietnam.

The news escalated health problems for Tom O’Brien and his wife, Catherine. The two of them died within a month of each other in 1970, three years after the death of their son. Catherine died of cancer. Tom, with cancer himself, would die of a heart attack, though most ascribed his death to a broken heart.

Some 20 years later, in 1988, my family and I were on a camping trip around America. On our trip back up the East Coast, we stopped in Washington, D.C., to see, among other things, the Vietnam War Memorial. I took a close-up photo of Chris’s panel. It is now in the family album as part of our photographic history.

My life has gone on, while Chris’s was frozen in time as a young Marine. So, too, was the future of the O’Brien family cut short, though Terry lived on for many years in his bachelor’s existence.

A few years ago I was sitting high up in the centerfield bleachers at Fenway Park with my two sons. Climbing up the aisle came an older man in plaid pants and a red athletic jacket. He was being assisted up the long climb by what I assumed to be a friend. The old man was laboring, but he had a smile on his face.

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