A couple of Friday nights ago, I thought I heard the faint tinkling of a bell. It turns out it was my dear and old friend, Tommy Portanova, receiving his wings, for he had suddenly and unexpectedly died earlier that night.
Losing Tommy hit me hard. It was a sad, jarring and vivid reminder of my own mortality. No one outside my immediate family knew me longer than him. We go back to kindergarten together at Jackson Elementary School in 1962. After I moved over to High Street in 1964 and went to school at Lose and later Stevens, I did not see as much of him. When I did see him, it was usually at the Newberry Lions Carnival every summer — where I always caught up with my Newberry friends. He was always friendly, and he always greeted me with his infectious, cheery smile — something he retained for all of his life.
I saw him again when we both went to high school and had several classes together, and his warm friendliness had not changed.
Strangely enough, I was reunited with him again, this time in college, at Bloomsburg State College, where he had transferred after attending Clarion for two years. When he got to Bloom, he ended up as a roommate with another fellow Williamsporter whom I was close to, Wayne Palmer, and we started to hang out together. And then in my senior year at Bloomsburg, he was one of my roommates. It was never a dull moment with him. We had a lot of fun and laughs and warm memories that still carry to this day.
Tommy and I both got a big kick out of professional wrestling, and sometimes at the apartment, we would engage in our own wrestling matches, we called “sumo wrestling,” even though it in no way resembled the real Japanese kind. Inevitably, Tommy would suffer minor injuries whenever he struck a piece of furniture or wall that got in the way. But that was fine with him — we still were having fun.
After we got back to Williamsport, we continued our friendship, and I would see him periodically. I was on hand for the happiest day of his life when he married his beloved Rhonda.
Tommy was there on the best day of my life when I married my dear Mary and on the worst day of my life when we buried her.
The constant through all the years for Tommy was his unbridled passion for life and for the great fun and laughter he brought to others.
Many years ago there was a John Ford film called “The Last Hurrah” about this Boston politician, played by Spencer Tracy. One of his aides was a character called “Ditto,” and in the film as Tracy’s character is dying he looks up at Ditto and quietly says, “How do you thank a guy who gave you a million laughs?” I find myself asking the same question about Tommy. How do thank him for all the joy and laughter he gave all of us. I guess Tommy would be pleased that we enjoyed those laughs.
As I looked around at all the people crammed into Tommy’s standing room only funeral service at his beloved Pine Street United Methodist Church, I can imagine him shaking his head and asking, “Are all these people here for me?” Yes, Tommy, they are. You had a greater, positive impact on people than you could ever imagine.
I thought it was wonderfully uplifting when they played the fight song of the New York Mets, “Meet the Mets” at the end of his service and everyone sang along. I will be thinking of Tommy when his beloved Mets play the Phillies at Bowman Field this summer.
There is so much more that I could write.
You will always be the angel at the side of Rhonda, Jenna, Terra, and Christine, just as my beloved angel, Mary will always be at my side.1 comment