When I drove by Eddie Gabor's old house, I was transported back 20 years -- back to the wonderful Fourth of July outings my family once enjoyed there.
Eddie Gabor was my grandmother's longtime companion. For the last 20 years of her life, Eddie treated her like gold.
She'd had a hard life, after all. Widowed in her late 40s, she struggled for years to pay the bills. She struggled to tend to the last of her six children (who all went on to do well in life).
Then Providence intervened.
My grandmother, a regular churchgoer, had caught the eye of another parishioner -- a colorful, old bachelor named Eddie Gabor.
Eddie and his brother ran a successful office-cleaning business. They had hundreds of employees who maintained the interiors and exteriors of Pittsburgh's biggest high-rise buildings.
Though Eddie's brother married and raised a family, Eddie was never blessed that way. Many years went by and Eddie was still alone -- until he met my grandmother. The two hit it off instantly. They were soon inseparable. They went to Mass together every day. Eddie took her to Pittsburgh's finest restaurants every night. My grandmother brought Eddie to every family event.
Eddie made the last 20 years of her life her best years. He made our Fourth of July celebrations wonderful, too. Eddie lived in a beautiful stone home up high on a hill. His home bordered a park. Every Fourth of July, his township gave a fireworks display. Eddie's backyard offered a perfect view.
So every year, he set out tables and chairs. He made refreshments and food. Just before dusk, my grandmother's children, grandchildren, their spouses and others would arrive. As the adults laughed and caught up with each other, the children danced around the yard, giggling as their sparklers burned bright.
Soon, the sky would fall black and the fireworks would begin. As we "oohed" and "aahed" -- as the sky exploded into light and just as quickly returned to darkness -- Eddie would be next to my grandmother, as contented as a man can be.
Eddie threw his last Fourth of July party in 1993, five years after my grandmother died. He died the following winter. Our sadness at the loss of both hit hardest the next Fourth of July, when we could no longer gather at Eddie's to celebrate. The fact is, there was no better place to celebrate the Fourth of July -- not just because Eddie made my grandmother's last years so wonderful, but in part because of Eddie's father.
Eddie's father was born in Hungary. He came to America seeking a better life for himself and his family. He took the first job he could get -- janitor. Where others may view mopping and cleaning as demeaning work, Eddie's father surely didn't. He saw a future. He started his own cleaning business. He began by cleaning small commercial buildings and kept moving his way up. His company was soon maintaining larger buildings. He soon had the means to send his sons to college -- to develop their business skills to help him keep growing the business.
He built himself a nice stone home in the suburbs -- the home in which Eddie Gabor would live the rest of his life. The story of Eddie's father is an American story. Through hard work, he made an incredible life for his family, and he unwittingly made an incredible life for my grandmother.
As I first drove by Eddie Gabor's old house, I was initially filled with sadness -- sad that my grandmother and Eddie have been gone nearly 20 years already. But as all the memories came flooding back -- as I pieced together what the old house really symbolizes -- I couldn't help but smile. Despite America's temporary setbacks, I prefer to focus on the incredible blessings our country bestowed on Eddie's father, Eddie, my grandmother and my family.
I plan to drive by Eddie Gabor's old house every Fourth of July.
Tom Purcell, a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. E-mail him at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.