When I think of the late Sam Imperiale, Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” comes to mind.
My wife’s father did what he wanted, when he wanted, and how he wanted. Sometimes, it was the greatest thing to watch on this Earth. He could make everybody in the room laugh. Seriously, send this man into the largest gathering of eclectically bitter souls and belly laughs would follow. He had a gift and it made you smile. It wasn’t overly physical comedy, just a guy who had stories and a way of telling them.
Sometimes, doing it his way could be hurtful for some. Like anyone else who breathes or used to breathe on this rock, Sam made mistakes and they did damage to his life. You can’t just go around life once and collect $200; it’ll surprise the shit out of you and stun you. But Sam’s legacy is intact. When he passed away last night at 9:40 pm, nobody was mad at him for what he did or didn’t do; they were sad they didn’t get more time.
We always want more time. A few more hours, days, or weeks to sort out our needs in regards to someone we love more than most. Isn’t that the goal in life? That when you depart, people wanted more time with you. I sure hope so. Sam wasn’t done here yet but it was time to go, he said when and didn’t let someone merely unplug a machine. He did it his way.
Sam treated me like a king whenever I came over to see Rachel in the beginning of our relationship. Sam would pour me three fingers (no shit) of bourbon and flash that mischievous smile as he walked back to the kitchen. One could surmise he was trying to cut me in half, but that was Sam’s way of telling me, “You’re in the club, now.” That was Sam’s way of sharing his love. He served me a plate of food along with it. Every time I came over, the same happened. Sam made you a king his house.
We’d argue about the Cardinals. Sam was old school Whitey and when I arrived, it was only a matter of pitches before we discussed the team. “They don’t play the game the same anymore,” he’d say. I would throw something back, and it would go on. The same for movies. Sam loved old war movies and couldn’t understand the new wave of comic book movies. I’d explain, that mischievous smile would return, and the conversation would continue. Once again, he did it his way … in everything. What he thought, believed in, and held true to his soul.
One thing comes to mind and please stick with me to the end of the story. Sam and his wife, Mary, were trying to move this large piano from their basement to the living room. Since The Rock didn’t live nearby, he gathered everyone who ever squatted at some point in his or her life to help out. We got it onto the second flight of the stairs that went up to the living room, but we also felt like taking a nap. Mary got under it and pushed it with her legs, and Sam broke out the chainsaw to slice off the top piece of the staircase. It was Animal House meets The Burbs in one room. He then asked me to go to the garage and grab a piece of plywood so we could it under the piano to help push it up the stairs.
Full disclosure: I didn’t know what plywood fucking was. When it comes to being handy and fixing stuff, I am not the sharpest tool in the shed. Shit, I’m basically happy to be in the shed. It’s not my specialty by a long shot. But I did my best. It didn’t help that Sam’s garage was Emilio Estevez’s lunch bag from Breakfast Club. There was stuff everywhere. You had to watch your step and your head. I found a thinner piece of lumber, something to get under the piano. I was bemused but quietly impressed that I found it.
Sam wasn’t impressed. He rolled his eyes when I gave him the obviously-not-fucking-plywood piece of lumber. He cracked a few jokes, I became the butt of the joke, and it didn’t feel good at all. There I was, flat on my ass trying to help him move this monstrous piano, and he was cutting me down in front of eight people. We got the piano upstairs, but over the years following, Sam would love telling the story of how I didn’t know what plywood was. I would get more mad each time I heard it. People would look at me and make a quick summation of my ability due to one incident. I grew angry with Sam due to this. I was always candid about my lack of handy skills, but he didn’t care. That’s not the end of the story.
Here’s the thing. Sam wasn’t trying to belittle me in front of others. Not exactly. It took me a long time to realize this, but it couldn’t be more clear today. Being the butt of the joke can deflect that truth from you initially. Sam was simply trying to find the funny. That’s what he did with everything: Find the quickest route to laughter and stay there, because the harshness of the world was too much sometimes. That’s what made the hangouts at his place so great. It was good food, great jokes, and the best of times. I’ll miss that. Not the piano, but the jokes that came from it. I’d love to hear him tell that piano story one more time.
Now, he’s gone. I never got a chance to say goodbye. Life is cruel in that regard. You don’t get an email like the 45 different BS ones from stores and specials in your gmail. It won’t read, “such and such could be dying soon, so go make an effort.” I should have made a bigger effort to hang out with him in the past few years. It’s one of my few regrets. He used to jokingly tell me to run at times, but I know deep down he was telling me to stay and take care of his daughter.
BUT I did get to serve him drinks and food at Thanksgiving this past November. He sat in a chair and I took care of him. 17 years and change after he first served me bourbon and snacks, I did the same to him. I’ll never forget having that honor.
Thank you, Sam. Thank you for putting Rachel in the world for me to find. Thank you for giving me some of the greatest sisters a brother could ever deserve. Thank you for giving me a little brother that I love like my own blood. Thanks for being hard on me while respecting me at the same time.
You will be missed. I hope they serve a stiff martini up there in heaven and play good music.
I love you.