Al died of complications at least partially due to a beating he took during one of his outings in Chicago.

Alphonse Seraphine Veras was my cousin.
He was the youngest child of my mother’s oldest sister,
  Rosaleen Pater, and her husband, Alphonse Veras.
He and his siblings - Joe, Mary Celine, and Rosal,
  are without a doubt my closest relatives
  in terms of both the quantity and quality of the time
  our families spent together over the past half-century or so.

Al was born on December 7, 1952.
One year, seven months, and five days after I was born.

He was a unique person in my life.
He was, as I believe some Native American Indian tribe might call him, my “milk brother.”
Because of a serious illness that his mother (my Aunt Rosaleen)
  suffered shortly after Al was born,
  my own mother (Al’s Aunt Marion) nursed Al
  during the same period she was still nursing me.
We shared my mother’s milk.

Among Al’s siblings and cousins,
he was almost always referred to as “Butch.”

I was never sure why he was called Butch.
I have heard that his mother, my Aunt Rosaleen,
  did not want him to be called “Junior”
  even though he and his father (my Uncle Al) were both “Alphonse”.

But I did not know why the nickname “Butch” was chosen.
Or why it stuck with him among the relatives all the way through adulthood.

(Al was unique among my cousins in another way.
He was the only cousin to be included in my own family’s nightly litany.
It went, “God bless Mom and Dad, and Grandma and Grandpa,
  and Charles and Nicholas and Michael and Robert and
  and Jimmy and Mary Lou and Raymond and BUTCH.”
As kids, we never asked why Butch was the only “non-sibling” included.
Nor why, although the rest of us were in chronological order,
  Butch was always bumped to the end of the list.

But it is obvious now that he was there because of his inclusion into the family as an infant.

Back to Al’s nickname.
I think I may have recently solved the puzzle.
  If you remember, I mentioned that my Mom nursed Al in his infancy.
And my mother had a habit of consulting the church calendar
 when naming any of her own children.
If there was a saint she liked feast day happened to occur near our date of birth,
 then that name was one of those to be considered for our name choices.

And recently, I came across a pre-Vatican council church calendar
  (remember, this was 1952, back when St. Christopher was still a saint).

And I looked up Al’s birthday.
December 7.
And guess whose feast day was on December 7th way back then?
Yup.
St. Butch.

Al was one of the “black sheep” of the Pater clan.
Not the only one.
(I think almost every clan has at least one or two
 of these colorful characters.)
Not that he was a trouble maker.
I really don’t remember any stories of malicious mischief on Al’s part.
In fact, it was usually the opposite.
Al was often the victim.
Nor was he overly obstinate or ornery.
It is more accurate to say that Al was an “outsider".
I don’t know if he actually felt ostracized by the rest of us,
 or if he just felt more comfortable being by himself, on his own.
Al always seemed a little different from the rest of us.
Still well loved, but in a more solitary way.
I guess some people might have called him a character.

(The remarkable thing about being a “character” is that
  characters are often a little more interesting and memorable
  that the rest of the flock.)
My daughter Joy called Al “the last hippie.”
And she meant that as a compliment.
Al was a laid back “peace child” throughout his life.

I guess that calling Al a “black sheep” is not quite accurate.
Among a flock Paters that consists almost entirely (including myself)
  of wooly, beige sheep
  grazing contentedly in a field of meadow grass –
Al was that one lone goat with his head cocked slightly to the side,
  eyes slightly off-focus,
  galavanting around the farmer’s barn,
  munching happily of anything he decides might be edible.

One disturbing tendency that I’ve noticed over the years
  is that younger members of a family quite often die
  before their older siblings.
(I don’t mean to alarm those of you who are younger siblings.
This doesn’t occur in every case.)
But given the odds ,
  you would think that we kids would die
  in about the same order in which we were born, right???
We all have the same odds.
The same average life span.
But I’ve notice this “youngest sibling dies first” in many cases lately.

I’ve thought about it some.
Especially since Butch’s death.
I’ve come to the conclusion that:
  since youngest children are usually the last to do things in the family –
    the last to learn how to walk,
       the last to learn how to talk,
        the last to move out.
Then this is their REVENGE.
Their way of indisputably being the first in the family in some area.

Al was the last in his family to come upon the earth.
But he was the first to enter heaven.
(As Butch might say, “Nayh, nayh nayh nayh, Nayh!”

I’m sure that there were times when Al felt upset about something.
A criticism that he felt was unfair.
A comment that stung.
A streak of misfortune or bad luck.

But mostly, Butch was a happy person.

He reminded me of two very different comedians.
He had the bright, wide-eyed
  innocent-to-the-ways-of-the-world attitude of Red Skeleton.
And the long, wild hair (often in a pony-tail)
  and ragged unpolished hippy look of George Carlin.

I’m not sure if Butch reminded me of
  George Carlin doing a hippy-dippy ‘telemarketer’ imitation of Red Skeleton’s “Clem Cuddiddlehopper,”
Or if he reminded me of Red Skeleton doing a clownish imitation of George Carlin’s hippy-dippy weatherman.

And I’m ashamed to say that there were times
  when I laughed at Al
  not with him.
Much as we all laugh at a clown.

And like a clown, he seldom if ever took offense at my laughter.
Perhaps he wasn’t aware that I was laughing at him.
Or maybe, like a clown, he didn’t mind.
He was just busy enjoying life.

Think of clowns.
Despite how “good” we might think we are,
  we always laugh at clowns.
Not with them.
Clowns go through life doing silly things,
  or clumsy things.
By nature.
And yet we laugh at what happens.
And still, they never get angry at us for our laughter.
They go on doing the best they can.
And often make a mess of things.

And I think Al went through life –
  unintentionally,
  but quite naturally,
  as a clown.
Doing the best that he could
  and sometimes messing up,
  and sometimes failing.
But always kind.
Always caring.
Always enjoying laughter.
Always enjoying life.

After Al died, our cousin Rick wrote,
“I thought I saw Al recently while I was driving down Sheridan Road.
  He was smiling.
  But I’m not sure if he was smiling because he had seen me,
  or if he was just smiling.

Knowing Butch, he would have been smiling whether he had seen Rick or not.
Happy to be alive.

I have a quote that I’ve saved for some time,
  I thought it was a good one.
I’ve got it on a note card on my wall.
I never knew the source.

It goes,
“Life is not a journey to the grave
  with the intention of arriving safely
  in a pretty and well-preserved body,
  but rather to skid in broadside
  totally worn out
  and proclaiming
    ‘Wow! What a ride!’”

I remembered that quote when I began writing this eulogy,
  and I thought of Al.
I thought it really applied to Al’s life.

And I found it kind of ironic when I discovered the source of that quote
  while working on the eulogy
  in a email sent from a friend.

You see, in my mind, there were already two connections between Al and the source of the quote.
One connection I already mentioned.
The other connection is that both of them died with 24 hours of each other.

The source of the quote???

George Carlin.

At one time, Paw Paw Lake, in Southwestern Michigan,
  endured the annual summer onslaught of a sizable number of Al’s relatives.
It wasn’t uncommon for four aunts and four uncles
  and close to two dozen cousins to spend warm summer days
  all within yelling distance of each other.
Beginning with Memorial Day weekend,
  and frequently throughout the summer,
  we would stuff ourselves into family cars and station wagons,
  and journey off to Watervliet, Michigan,   where the Veras/Pater clan had three summer homes   (and one permanent residence) An area we city kids thought of as heaven.

A place where we could go barefoot all day.

A place where telephones and televisions hadn't been invented yet -
  at least as far as our cottages were equipped
  ( and still aren't - unless you bring your own!)
  and we kids had to entertain ourselves -
   with playing cards and puzzles and games and books.

Where we could swim and hike and row and fish
  and hunt for frogs and clams
  and catch crayfish and turtles –
  and poison ivy!!

Where we could hack away at our swamp with machetes
  and shoot bb guns and bows-and-arrows.

Where we could play in the sun till we were burnt bright red
  and ready to peel off our “city-skin.”

A place where you could savor the smell of wild mint
  and simmering home-made jams
   (and decaying seaweed)!
And enjoy the tastes of strawberries,
  And blueberries,    and peaches and apples    that we picked ourselves.
And know the comfort of a thick quilt and coal fireplace
  on a cold morning in early June.

A place where we always ate outdoors
  and roasted potatoes and bluegills and marshmallows
  (not all at once)
  over open fire pits.
  that we built ourselves!!

A place where we could light punks and sparklers
  and kerosene-soaked cat-tails,
  and, if we were old enough,
  set off lady-fingers,
    then fire-crackers,
      and then M-80's!

A place where we could play “hide-and-go-seek” in the dark,
  and tell ghost stories,
  and look up into the gloriously star-sprinkled night skies
  and search for shooting stars
  and satellites,
  and UFOs.

A place where we never even wanted to be indoors.
Even when it was raining out,
  it was good to be outside.
  building rivers and dams and lakes,
  splashing in puddles,
  watching storm clouds bluster in across the lake,
  taking in the flashes of lightning and the crash of thunder
  and searching for rainbows.
(in ways more vivid than we ever experienced in the city.)
And washing out all those days spent stuck in a classroom.

One of my son Jeremy’s favorite songs is one by Jimmy Buffett,
  called “One Particular Harbor,”
  in which Buffett reminisces
  about one special place in the world,
  where all his troubles disappear.
Jeremy says the song reminds him of the cottage.
And Paw Paw Lake is still one of those places to many in Al’s clan.
And Al made sure to visit it at least one week every year.
He knew what paradise is like.
And he liked being there.

(And I would hope that each of you have "One Particular Harbor" in your own lives.)

It was a long trip out to the cottage.
In the days before the Interstate was put in,
  it was often a four hour drive
  from Roseland, on Chicago’s far south side,
  to our cottages.

We would start as soon as our fathers came home from work on Friday nights,
Quickly tossing all of our stuff (and ourselves) into the crowded cars.
And we would talk and sing and laugh,
  and say the family Rosary.
And often we would fall asleep before we arrived.
But we kids would try to stay awake for one very important milestone
  along the way.
And if we were awake, we tried to act non-chalant
  as we noticed this “milestone” approaching.
Because we didn’t want to tip off any of the other kids in the car.
And when our car would cross that magical point.
  (that wonderful, invisible line
  that separated the real world from paradise)
  we strove to be the first to stretch our hand
  to the front of the car
  and yell out:
    “FIRST ONE IN MICHIGAN!
    FIRST ONE IN MICHIGAN!!!”

(And to this day, members of the clan still try,
  with childish enthusiasm,
  to be the first on across that particular state line
  on the way to the cottage.)

(And I wonder what people who live in Michigan do when they cross the state line.)

Well, Butch, you just crossed that
  magical invisible line
  that seperates those us here
  from the place we all want someday to be.

I guess that gives you the right to yell out
  “First one in Paradise!
  First one in Paradise!!!”

And I imagine that Joe,
  and Mary Celine,
   and Rosal
    are all saying, “Darn!”

Congratulations, Butch.
I’m sure you’re lookin’ down upon us right now,
  and smiling that happy smile of yours.