Reflections on May 30, 2015
My older brother, by 25 months, was truly a celebrity of sorts. Greg was a boy with a zest for life, living in the moment, and creating opportunities to learn and grow along with his family. He challenged the odds with congenital heart disease from birth onward with amazing grace and style. Congenital heart disease never defined him in life. He was most importantly a boy with vision, hope, spirit of adventure, faith, and grew up into a young man and adult completing all the milestones in life with great style and charisma. He carried with him on that journey an amazing smile and personality that resonated for miles that was calming and reassuring and could send you into a full out belly laugh and potentially even make you wet your pants. And the silly smirk of his would make you burst out laughing, especially if he caught you in the act with something you weren’t supposed to be doing. As I share a few moments of our childhood, reminded of one of his famous quotes.
How to begin??? Boys, boys, boys, we had plenty of them and they were rough and hard to keep up with. I used to beg my mother for a sister but don’t anymore and treasure all of my brothers. My parents never shied away from taking on new adventures, teaching a solid work ethic, and of course creating many fun moments to remember along the way. We shared many toys, bedrooms, adventures, germs like chicken pox, and even a few tears along the way.
As young kids, we all took swimming lessons at Doyle Park in Little Chute. We would bike down to take lessons, come home for lunch, and then return again for open swim session. After we stayed all afternoon, we would stop at Jerry’s Store for candy on the way home. We took pride in our “deep” passes and ability to go off the boards with all the cousins. Of course, there were lifeguards in the stands, and according to the boys, they were just asking to get splash “bombed” by Greg and his cohorts! Greg was always pushing the limits and was even kicked out a few times too. Another time I recall the Greg going up and down Edgewood Court with the Push mopehead. A neighbor two doors down came out and told my father about it. My father reacted and said, “We should call the police of course.”
We had many a sleep overs in forts, tents over the close line pole, and pump tents. We had our wheels…rollerskates, skateboards, bikes, sleds, etc. During the day, there was telephone poles to hike up, domes to climb, tree forts to build, and fresh Piggly Wiggly doughnuts to consume. We even adjusted our wheels to include a skateboard getting pulled by a bike. Never a good idea, especially with stones in the road and on a Packer game day. Greg was the captain of the unicycle. He could ride all around town without stopping. His balance was phenomenal. I on the other hand, had difficulty letting go of the mailbox for support. There were adventures building a go cart using the old buggy that all four of us road in as infants. While riding down Pheasant Run, he hit a curb and went right through the front. The area around Victor Haen Elamentary School was filled with memories. Greg’s broken arm from the monkey bars and of course the “beads from the car let loose” around the corner.
As we grew, so did the transportation options. Motorcycles were a big draw. Greg took all the safety courses required, followed the family rules, and became a skilled and savvy bike rider. He even hit a deer one day and lay the bike down without injury. Greg also was a master on the water. He could sail all over, even with little wind. I never understand his skill. On many an occasion, he would have to rescue me stranded on the other side of the lake with the sail boat. He found it quite humorous, of course, when I was stuck in the weeds.
And then there is the classic brown family station wagon with pop up seats in the rear. This set of wheels carried us all over Wisconsin for adventures and one of the annual retreats had to include Marriot’s Great America, now called Six Flags in Gurnee. To get the most for our money and maximum coaster rides, we would arrive when it opened at 10am and stay until closing at 10pm. I recall one day when it poured like crazy just as we raced to our car at closing time. All 4 kids stripped into our underwear and lay in the back of the car and fell asleep together for the ride home.
And who could forget O’Kakka (our family boat) and the wonderful years at Lake Metonga and other nearby lakes and rivers. This was a boat that was due to retire. We bought it together. Everyone chipped in $200 of their own cash to pay for it and shared equal elbow grease taking care of it. The only good part was the motor and it ran well. We learned all about boat care very quickly: docking, forgetting the key, overloading and cracking the hull, and of course most importantly…learning how to ski, kneeboard, parasail, slalom ski and an occasional barefootter. Greg was the king of the self-induced butt wash on two skis. He loved bouncing up and down and jumping the wakes. I can still see him with his big toe head and smile from ear to ear waving at me in the boat. I can also see him like it was yesterday driving in the Fox River by the Appleton Yacht Club. He would intentionally stop the motor during any signs of a dead fish and say, “trouble with the motor.” Of course no giggles would be let out initially.
As he grew older, Greg met his love of his life and started a family. As their family grew up, the kids of course needed to be shown the beauty of lake fun! Uncle Carl and Aunt Alice hosted our family to a summer holiday on Legend Lake. There were two boats for towing that year, and both ran non-stop with a never ending supply of anxious riders to take their turn behind the boat. The double knee board shows were outstanding. Family connects at Mirror Lake camping, Marriot’s Great America on Father’s Day, and the famous Kalahari “snow in” at the Dells brought back memories of childhood. Mirror Lake even brought back to life Danny O’Day, the ventriloquist doll of childhood.
One of my favorite 4th of July celebrations was watching the fireworks over the Zumboro River when the family moved from Beaver Dam to Rochester. Looking back in time, sharing the ritual with our respective families was such blessing and am grateful. I understand that nowadays, the tradition is to watch them at Kelly’s house across the street as their house sits high above Rochester and you can see it quite well. I am certain Greg will be present and enjoy the fireworks this year and every year to follow.
Through the years of adulthood, we would chat and joke about our kid’s milestones in life. Our oldest were only months apart and recently finished their freshman years in college. I am blessed to have a wonderful godson, his son Marcus. I will never forget the heartfelt integrity his showed on my last visit as he stopped by to have “Big Daddy” give his final approval before he went off to prom. Greg was an outstanding father and demonstrated this endlessly with passion in all four of his wonderful and beautiful children.
Greg loved to tease and never passed up an opportunity. Whenever I think of minions and crazy sister quotes, I will think of him. My daughter Stephanie and I taught him a new Wizard card game, and it didn’t take long before he found a way to tease with the now infamous triple jester. One of my last visits in May with Greg, Stephanie and I were demonstrating a new dance move called the “shopping cart” to add to the repertoire. I was sharing a story of how Nate had been demonstrating the “sprinkler and the lawnmower” dance moves at a bar mitzvah. Greg had seen our moves before but not the shopping cart one. It took me awhile to get it right. When I did Greg smiled, smirked, and of course rolled his eyes at me. I can only imagine the comments that he was ready to share if he could communicate better with me at the time.
Greg loved to inspire using minions and humor, tinker, complete puzzles, and his math skills were outstanding. He always showed me up and never could compete with him. He never let his brilliance overshadow me and had a way of reassuring me that I could “get it” too with time and practice. I did finish one of his coaster puzzles recently and unfortunately, I never was able to demonstrate to him how I did it. To him, you had to prove it, so it probably doesn’t count.
I was, however, successful in completing what the infamous Sprecher and A & W Root Beer challenge while he was in Domitilla Building at the Mayo Hospital and Clinics. With statistical significance, A & W won the taste test challenge and proved his theory. I will always have a fondness for A & W root beer floats because of him. Such a perfect memory to share today following this service.
In closing, Gregory James Romenesko was a real scientist at heart driving to push the envelope in life. This is what he did in every facet he touched whether son, sibling, wife, father, uncle, co-worker, or friend. God bless this dear young man at 47 years of age for all his wisdom and willingness to share through the years. He will be dearly missed, and I am grateful to have shared a small part in his lifetime.
Give Grandpa a hug for his birthday and share a root beer float with Grandma and the rest of the angels today.
Luv ya bro! Warmly, your sis, Michelle
In time, I trust that the harsh reality of Greg’s passing will transition to a new way of living without the palpable and steadfast void now felt in Rochester and the communities beyond. We all have a journey to travel. The road is not always straightforward and will take intense work and time to get to the destination. With gentle healing hands, hearts, hugs, and tears, I trust the hole that is ever present today will become filled with many more memories, inspirational stories of love and caring, and Greg’s legacy will continue to live on fully within our hearts just as he did in ours.
HOPE, HEALING, and GENEROSITY in MUSIC
A very peaceful and “God Sent” message appeared on my Facebook news wall just before we headed out for the wake and celebration of life service. A copy of the hymn, composed by Paul Cardall, was shared at no cost on May 28th for all his piano playing followers. Paul is 42 years old, an international pianist, and incidentally shares the same birth month and day as my brother. He also was born with single ventricle heart disease and underwent his transplant in 2009. Without his new heart, he never would have been able to meet his daughter. If you don’t know about him, I encourage you to inquire. Music and time will help us all heal. Grateful for my daughter Stephanie for her gift playing it for all of us during the wake, Paul Cardall for generously sharing his talents when he did, and for the memory of Greg’s presence with me in my heart every time I play the piece “Sweet Hour of Prayer.”
I miss you my dear brother. Your golden heart, generosity, and amazing legacy will be with each of us in heartfelt moments of every day through whether it is decisions about life, healing laughter, or gorgeous smiles like yours.