An excerpt from Tom Purcell’s new book, “Comical Sense: A Lone Humorist Takes on a World Gone Nutty!”
When I drove by Eddie Gabor’s old house, I was transported back more than 20 years - back to the wonderful Fourth of July outings my family once enjoyed there.
Eddie Gabor was my grandmother’s longtime boyfriend and companion. For the last 20 years of her life, Eddie treated her like gold.
My grandmother had a hard life, after all. Widowed in her late 40s, she struggled for years to pay the bills and tend to the last of her six children.
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.
Eddie and my grandmother hit it off instantly. 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 above a park. Every Fourth of July his township gave an incredible 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 more 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 hard 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 poor. 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 didn’t. He saw opportunity.
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, so they could help grow and manage the business. He built himself a fine stone home in one of Pittsburgh’s finest neighborhoods - 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 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 more than 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.
The house symbolizes all of the incredible blessings our country bestowed on Eddie’s father, Eddie, my grandmother and my family.
That’s what I’ll be thinking about when I take a drive by the old place this Fourth of July.
Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood” and “Comical Sense: A Lone Humorist Takes on a World Gone Nutty!” is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Send comments to Tom at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.