It will be 36 years this July since I first met Richard Orlandi, Sr., Big Rich…or the Big O as we lovingly called him, after his son brought home a new grandson…and this stray from Texas. A couple of weeks ago I attended my first Tridentine Latin Mass in Ridgefield, Ct., since converting to the Catholic faith this past year. During the Mass, the priest gave an amazing sermon on the holiness of the family, connecting Joseph to the father, Mary to the mother and Jesus to each of us as children of God.
Today, it is impossible for me to think of the word family without the image of the Orlandi family on my mind and in my heart. I think of Richie, John, Mark & Marlene as my own brothers and sister…I couldn’t have loved Marianne and Rich Sr. anymore if they were my own mother and father. I know now why the divine winds blew my lost ship to the shores of Hull, Massachusetts those many years ago…As a young man I had lost faith in family, and as a result I had lost the belief in myself as man.
In what was supposed to have been a weekend, turned out to be the entire summer of ’77…a summer where I was made to feel as if I was the fifth child that Mr.& Mrs. O had forgotten they had, but seemed genuinely delighted to find again! In what turned out to be the most amazing summer of my life, my faith was restored…my belief was renewed. I have never confessed this to any of you, but I honestly don’t know what would have become of me if I hadn’t washed ashore here.
I was blessed to be able to visit with the Big O one last time just before this past Christmas. While he appeared a mere shadow of the mountain of a man I so vividly recall meeting for the first time, his eyes held the same piercing smile I remembered from day one. It did my heart good to see his face light up when I brought up old memories of uniquely hilarious events that helped make the Orlandi kitchen at 12 P Street legendary!
The truth is that I learned more about being a man from Richard Orlandi Sr. than from anyone else I know…including my own father. For those of you who were also blessed to know him, you understand that he possessed the rare quality of looking you in the eye, totally accepting you while holding you accountable all in the same gaze!
From him I learned that grace & masculinity are not mutually exclusive and that there is nothing on this earth more important than family. Marianne may have kept things together, but Rich Sr. was the head of the family in the most important sense of the word…not by mandate, not by decree or force that I’m aware…but by the energy of Man in the Man! He didn’t need force because when you got the look, you understood perfectly where the line was!
Listening to the Priest in Ridgefield describe family, I knew he was talking about the very mortar that holds our greatest gift together, teaches us the importance of bonds, of love and of trust and friendship…providing the very best foundation there is to grow from. I knew he was describing the Orlandi’s to the T! We may have lost a good friend here on earth, but rumor has it they were one Master Mortar Mason short in Heaven…and Marianne was waiting.
The best way to honor the father there is to manifest all he taught us here. We love you “Pups”!