Each week, I have 800 words in which to share with my town the things I think they need to know. It is a responsibility I don’t take lightly. I revel in your children’s birthdays, your achievements, your retirements. I love and appreciate every email and phone call, and what it says about this town and this community.
Forgive me if I can’t seem to get jazzed this week about dance recitals or holiday parties. Edgartown has lost one of its finest men, and this week, Ralph Case, all my words are for you.
We have a joke in my family that Ralph Case saved my life. When I was a newborn, fresh from the hospital, my mother had me propped up on pillows in the corner of the couch as she changed the curtains. Ralph, one of my father’s best friends in the world, came over to watch a football game, and in his usual Ralph way, he barreled into the room, reeling off nonstop whatever story he had been bursting to relay since last meeting, and as he prepared to settle onto the couch, my mother began screaming, “The baby! The baby!” Thus, Ralph got to be the first to rescue me — from being crushed by his ass.
He is known as Uncle Ralph to so many of us — particularly us kids who spent our Sunday mornings running loose around the fire station. Ralph might hold us up to ring the bell, or be the first passenger to board when we lined up the brown folding chairs to play “bus driver.” He was family through and through. From the good times — holiday meals, board games, watching sports — to the even more familial: humiliating me as only an uncle can on my 16th birthday with a big smoocher on my cheek, proclaiming “Sweet Sixteen and never been kissed!”
But the sweetest, dearest memory I have is when I was preparing for my wedding day. In the last days leading up to a wedding, you can’t see the forest for the trees with all the last-minute decision making and coordination. Ralph, a 40-year employee of the Water Department, stopped at the house to tell me, “Lin, I repainted all the fire hydrants on the road in honor of your wedding.” And it was the sweetest gesture. It was an act of kindness that I recall every time I see one of those red and white pillars on the roadside. One day, you were all painted fresh for me.
We’re that kind of town. People do what they can. And we each have our own special ways to contribute. Hydrants aside, Ralph’s daily contribution to this world was his smile. He was the jolliest, happiest guy all the time no matter what — with one exception: if the Pats were losing, you did not want to get in his way. That’s one of the reasons he always manned the grill — it kept his Pats-induced temper down. Also, he could cook a venison backstrap like it’s nobody’s business.
I can’t imagine how many lives Ralph has affected and enriched from something as simple as a smile to something as intense as saving a house from fire. Firefighter, surrogate uncle, true friend. He was these things to so many of us. To Kathie, he was an adoring husband and best bud. My heart aches for her. Ralph’s passing leaves a gigantic hole in this town, this community, and so many of our lives.
I will miss seeing you wave from the big white truck. I will miss your camouflage hats and hearing you yell at the refs each time they throw an errant flag. I will miss your big smile and your bear hugs and your genuine happiness every time to see me. You will be sorely, dearly missed, Ralphie. There will never be enough words in which to count the ways.