A Tribute to my brother Carl Barberi
On November 20, 1949, God gave all of us a treasure – my brother Carl. Like many treasures, in the beginning you often don't realize what you have - - it's only over time, and upon reflection that the true value of the treasure becomes clear.
In the early days, Carl had the fortune of being the youngest child in his class, beating the kindergarten deadline by only 10 days. That put Carl at a distinct disadvantage of sorts in terms of body development and sports. In the 10th grade Carl had the nickname "bubbles" – 5 ft. 6 inches, no muscle definition whatsoever, and 130 lbs. soaking wet. But, Carl continued to grow, and after graduation grew almost 2 more inches to reach 6 feet in stature as if the say to his friends "so there." As Carl grew, so did his hair and good looks.
In Junior High, I always watched Carl putting "dippity-do" on his locks to try and straighten out his curls. When he got back from the Navy, he was often mistaken for Gabe Kaplan of Welcome Back Kotter. Boy was Carl a handsome dude. At that time, both Carl and I were single and with the rest of his buddies, we would drag Carl go with us to dances so we could encourage the girls to come over to our table - - and that they did. Not only did the girls like Carl and believe he was "really cute", but the guys that came to know Carl also realized what a kind, gentle person he was; and the guys liked Carl just as much. No jealously there - - and that's rare when you have a guy as handsome as Carl.
For a variety of reasons, let's just say that Carl got distracted high school. I know that our father, Carlo, became concerned about whether Carl would be successful at College. Somehow, a decision was made that Carl and best friend, Bob Elmore, would both enter the Navy on the "buddy plan" - - supposedly to stay together, perhaps on the same ship, for the next 4 years.
It's been said that joining the Military can make the man - - while I don't know all the why's, I do know that when Carl's tour of duty ended he and Bob both returned to attend College at CMU, nd both returned quite mature young men. Carl returned very focused and determined to make his mark in life. He excelled at classes and worked hard at Elmore's Furniture and Appliance Store, and - - - most importantly, he met the love of his life, Alison. Oh how Carl was smitten by the red haired gal from Alma. Both Carl and Alison met each other while studying and taking Education classes at CMU. As time moved forward, they fed off of each other. Carl and I often talked about how "she was the lady for him".
While Carl continued attending classes at CMU, Carl and I were lucky enough to be roommates - for 2 years. The first year was spent sharing good times with our Cousin Brian and the second year more of the same fun with long-time family friend Tom King. Many good times were shared as Carl and I enjoyed our remaining days of being single before wedding bells rang for both of us.
For the last 40 years since Carl's return from the Navy, I've watched Carl enrich the lives of everyone he touched. One of the basic truths of human existence is that no matter how great our accomplishments, it is other people who give our life meaning. When Carl first entered the field of education, he was initially looked upon as "Carlo's son". It didn't take long, however, for those around Carl to realize what an energized and devoted teacher he was. Oh did his students love their teacher, Carl. They figured out in a hurry how much he genuinely cared for each of them and how he tried to make each student all they could be. His sincerity and interest in their lives was infectious and they knew that they were blessed to have him as their teacher. "Mr. Barberi" became a favorite of parents at Rosebush who wanted to make sure that their child would be in his class. As an elementary teacher at Rosebush I saw Carl earn admiration and respect from his fellow teachers and from his first Principal, Bob Decker, who Carl respected and counted as a friend up until the time of his death.
When Carl continued to take classes in administration and decided to make his mark as a school administrator, Mt. Pleasant Public Schools' loss became Greenville Public Schools' gain. Carl knew that he could not remain in Carlo's shadow, as an administrator with the Mt. Pleasant Public School system - - - so, after interviewing with 2 other school districts, he chose an assistant principal's position at Greenville.
From Carl's days at Greenville Middle School with his mentor/principal, Dick Laurent, to his years spent at Cedar Crest, as an elementary principal, student after student came to know, love and respect "Mr. B." Until his death, other than his family, Carl's students remained his greatest pride....and oh how many students I've encountered that have commented on how much they loved their assistant principal or their principal Carl while students in the Greenville Public School System.
In the middle school, Carl's relationship with Dick Laurent became special. After our father Carlo's death in 1990, Carl turned to Dick to help fill the void left by Carlo's death - - - and without question, Dick, Carl considered you as a surrogate father. He truly loved you and each of your family members that he came to know so well.
But, when it came to Carl's own family, Carl was all about being a devoted family man - - yes, he adored Alison - - and though sometimes giving her grief - - he always knew what a class act she was. And Alison, over the years, Carl and I had more than one discussion about how lucky Carl was to have such a well-organized, loving and supportive wife. And, in addition to being an understanding and caring wife, you also were forgiving and tolerant for some of Carl's late nights out with the boys, etc. Carl had a gleam in his eye for you Alison like no other. As a brother-in-law Alison, I can only say WOW! Wow to you for how wonderful a wife you were to Carl his entire life - - and over the last 2 years you were pretty much a meticulous saint to Carl - - caring for his every medical, physical and emotional need. Carl knew how blessed he was to have such a devoted caregiver. And Alison, I believe that that is one of the reasons that Carl tried so hard – to face each medical and physical challenge, with the courage to do what needed to be done to make the best of the time he had left.
And, when it came to those he loved - - he was passionate about pleasing them. He loved fixing things for his father-in-law Dick at the Higgins Lake cottage, and taking care of mother-in-law Shirley's needs, whether it be in Alma or at a CMU football game with her friend Carolyn. He also loved his sisters-in-law and their families and cared deeply about each of them.
And his children - - Andria and Joel - - clearly, you were the most important "students" in Carl's life and his greatest legacy. You know of his teaching techniques - always instructing by example. Again, as brothers, we often talked about what he was trying to instill in each of you - - and over the 7 years that we worked together in Mt. Pleasant, he continued to relate how proud he was of both of you. Joel, for your perseverance in graduating from college and taking the leap to head south for the sake of your future with beautiful Nicole and Gizmo. And he was proud of Nicole for going back to school to better herself. And Andria, for your zest in life and passion for serving others around the world. He also admired and loved DJ, the special young man married to his daughter. He was so proud of both of you for returning to the field of education to obtain your teacher certifications.
Over the years, all 3 of my sons came to love their Uncle Carl. And, I'm sure it was true with Mariann's 3 children as well. It was always their Uncle Carl who never forgot any of their birthdays - - it was always Uncle Carl who sent the little notes with the kind words, together with "some green stuff", to help them celebrate their birthdays. It was Carl who took an interest in them and what was going on in their lives, and it was Carl who asked questions and gave encouragement whenever he could.
Carl was the game organizer at all of the Barberi family gatherings - - whether it was for the kids at Christmas or Easter, or for Grandma B on Mother's Day, Carl was always coming up with ideas for everyone to participate in games and have fun - - and those occasions won't be forgotten Carl, whether it's me, your sister Mariann, Alison or one of our children. Carl's example will be carried on with our children and grandchildren. In the future, whenever we organize a game at family gatherings, I'm sure Carl's name will be mentioned and memories of Carl's funny games will be re-lived by each of us.
And from my perspective, Carl was the best brother a guy could have. Being less than 18 months apart, we shared so many good times together. That's the key word – together. Our trips to grandparents, aunts and uncles in Detroit to be with the Barberi's and to Lowell, Massachusetts and the Hampton Beach area to be with the Sheedy clan. Oh so many sunrises and sunsets we shared. So many laughs; so many joys shared through the births of our children, the hunting trips, the golf trips with our buddies from Greenville and Mt. Pleasant; so many wonderful times together. It's going to be hard, Carl, not having you with us in the living years, but our wonderful memories of you will live on within each of us - - in each of our hearts - - forever.
Sharing the tribulations of Carl's last 2 years has been tough on all of us, because yes, we all wanted so much more - - we wanted to be with you Carl to share more memories and perhaps a glass or two of wine. Yes, we will miss that; but as a brother, I reflect on the 63 years we did have together. The last 7 years that we worked together - - helping others and being together with our mother - - all the lunches, all the dinners that we shared with Kay - - all were all priceless memories made possible by your decision to retire from the Greenville Public Schools and to return to work in Mt. Pleasant. Who could have predicted that 10 or 20 years ago? But, it happened; and it happened for a reason and I thank God for making it all possible.
My wife, Barb, also was blessed to come to know Carl in a very special way. Again, as fellow educators, they shared a bond; and she loved traveling with Carl and Alison to Italy, Ireland and most recently, to the Island of Kauai in Hawaii. Carl, Barb loved you for the person that you were and misses you terribly.
Even though there were reflections, "why this, why me, what lies ahead"? Never once – never once - - - did I see or hear Carl show anger or personal despair as a result of his diagnosis - - rather what I saw was a different sadness. A sadness that his life was being cut short from being able to see his grandchildren; yes, we talked about that, and a sadness for not being able to be there for you, Alison, and for your mother Shirley and his own mother Kay. All emotions to be expected, but never once did I hear Carl vocalize sadness for himself.
Always focusing on the positive - - what can I do to get better, let's get it done - - how can I prolong my days with my family and friends for as long as possible; one more golf game with my buddies, one more walk around Baldwin Lake with Alison; one more Tiger game to watch with Dick; one more dinner out with Alison and our Greenville friends.
Carl – you made so many good friends because of who you were; a sweet, a loving, gentle, kind, caring man who always gave his best to help others. You touched so many different people from different walks of life in so many unique ways.
And Carl, over the years you blessed many of us with your singing and with your love for music. In your youth you played lead singer and guitar in the band "Five of a Kind" and then with the "Lindels"; and in later years you treated us to the songs of James Taylor as you played your guitar at family gatherings. And we loved watching you smile as you displayed your musical talents.
Carl, you left us too soon but you will never, ever, ever be forgotten by any of us. With Alison's help, and with Father Mike's blessings, we arranged for the James Taylor, You've got a Friend, to be played today that I think that you would have approved of as we remember you Carl. We miss you Carl, but you will always be a friend to all of us forever.