December 17, 1968 – January 24, 2006
I can remember the day my parents brought my brother Sal home from the hospital. It was Tuesday, December 17th , 1968. They told us they had a present for my sister and I.…and they meant that literally. They had brought him home in a large white gift box. It had to be large because Sal weighed ten pounds and was 23 inches long. My sister and I looked on with curiosity at this squirming little boy in a box. I thought he was a pretty interesting character and didn’t realize just how different he was from me and my sister until one of his first diaper changes. I have a tip for everyone. Never stand behind the head of a baby boy when he is being changed. I was only 3 ½ but will never forget being on the receiving end of nature’s call. Over the years we would come to learn of the many other differences that existed between boys and girls. We lived in an apartment when Sal was first born. In all of the time we lived there my sister and I never drove our big wheel through anyone’s window nor over anyone’s car. We never got hold of a friend’s father’s handcuffs and handcuffed an annoying neighborhood kid to a tree. We never undressed a friend’s cousin in a flooded laundry room, told her it was a pool and let her swim in it. Despite their Mothers’ watchful eyes Sal and his best buddy at the time did all of these things by the age of four. Maybe that is why we moved out of that neighborhood and into the house my parents now live in.
It was in our new neighborhood that Sal met Scott and Steven who would become his lifelong friends. Our house backed up to theirs and they spent years hopping the fence to play with each other as young boys and even more years driving around the corner to pick each other up for nights out with the boys until the owning of their own transportation translated to boys night out. Their friendship endured separations for college and optometry school and is as strong today as it ever was. Sal and Scott were especially close and I’ve always admired the friendship that they shared.
Sal was a good younger brother most of the time, but Cynthia and I did endure our share of torture at the hands of Sal. We had the upper hand when he was little but it soon became apparent that he was getting bigger and stronger than us and that the tables had turned. Even with two against one we could not escape the spit torture or Ultra Man attacks. His friends were constantly in and out of the house with their weird sounds, bizarre secret expressions and general goofiness. Sal was an entertainer as a boy. I don’t know how many times we would have to listen to him sing “My Country Tis of Thee” or “Peg of my Heart” with his squeaky little voice. And even though we lived in Virginia the extended family was regaled with these masterpieces whenever we went home for the holidays. And how could we ever forget his Elvis imitations. He actually thought he was going to be the next Elvis. In 1982 Sal became a big brother to Christopher. And even though there are 14 years between them they became good friends as adults. I don’t know if that is because Chris is mature beyond his years or that Sal has always been a kid at heart. He would always look at Chris’s antics and a smirk would come over his face. It was a combination of exasperation, amusement and love. They were kindred spirits in their love of the Steelers.
As Sal grew he became accomplished at many things. He was an excellent soccer player and I think at least two of his nieces inherited some of his skill. He excelled in school making my parents very proud when he received the Math Excellence award his senior year in high school. He made them even prouder when he graduated from UVa and then from Optometry School. Academics came easily for Sal. His friends at SCO would tell my parents that Sal barely cracked the books but always came out with the highest grade. He had a gift for explaining things to others in a way they could easily understand them. He was methodical and showed patience in everything he did.
Academics were not the only thing that came easily to Sal. It was also easy for him to make friends. Sal had a great sense of humor, beautiful eyes and a beautiful smile. He was a humble guy. He had a gentle personality that drew people in and he had many many friends from every walk of life. Sal valued each person he met in Tinos and Eddies. His friends were very important to him. He even missed Mother’s Day one year to spend it with his buddy Steve Ryan who had recently lost his own mother. Doc, as he was called, was equally fond of his coworkers and patients at the Walmart. From his classmates to his teammates Sal held those friendships in high regard. Sal also had some special women in his life. Jennifer, Ellen and Tania all understand the grief each other is feeling. Tania most especially.
Sal loved Elvis, Billy Joel and Garth Brooks. He could sing them all and in my unbiased opinion sang Garth Brooks songs better than Garth. Sal was also a bit of a daredevil. From swinging like Tarzan over a creek to trying the expert slope the first time he went skiing Sal had no fear. I remember we got a good laugh when Sal got on the chair lift for the expert slope that first ski trip. I think he knew he was in trouble when he looked around and realized that his were the only skis that said “rental” on them. He started to have second thoughts but made it down the mountain in one piece.
Sal also loved a bargain. During his lunch hours at work he would browse through Walmart looking for the latest deals. I would sometimes get a call from him in the middle of the day asking me if I needed the latest sale item. Neither he nor I would need it but he had to buy it because it was such a good deal. Sometimes the deal was so good he’d buy two or more of the thing he didn’t need.
Sal was always there when you needed him. Whether it was helping to glue feathers onto a hat in Stephanie’s 1st grade class when I couldn’t find enough Moms to volunteer or coming to career day for Victoria’s grade he was happy to lend a hand. He was also a great support to me when I was sick. I don’t think he ever knew how much that meant to me.
Sal received a lot of attention in our family. He really never asked for it, it just came. We often referred to him as the “favorite” because he just was. He was very special to my parents. We could tell because my mother always gave him the extra artichoke and my Dad always gave him the extra homemade pizza meant for me. A first son who shared a name with another very special person in my mother’s life, Sal was able to fulfill a dream of his namesake…to become a doctor. To the sadness of us all he also shared in an untimely death.
No words could ever express how deeply we feel the loss of Sal. He came to us as a gift and now God has called that gift back home. We will carry fond memories of our son, brother, nephew, uncle, cousin, friend and boyfriend. We wish we could have had more time with you Sal. I will miss sitting across from you at holiday dinners. Our end of the table always had the most fun. I know you could read my mind as the chaos of those meals unfolded around us. I just had to catch your eye. We love you and will carry your spirit with us until we meet again. Rest in peace baby brother.
Written and delivered with love by Constance Culosi Gulley
St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Annandale, VA
Mass of Christian Burial, January 30, 2006