All people walk through life making a ripple, one that perhaps seems bigger with hindsight, but there are some who create a wave all their own, visible from the very start which only gets taller and more powerful each day. Our Uncle Brian was that sort. I say our because he can be claimed by so very many. Large families are like that. But for those whose family extends far beyond bloodline, those titans are impossible to possess solely. Titled by those who called him brother, cousin, husband, uncle, god-father, father, grand-father, boss, colleague, even competitor, Captain Brian Anthony McAllister’s list of affiliates is endless. Who among us could not call this man ours?
Legends demand a status all their own, clearly larger than average, yet touching us all. Brian was tenacious, persistent, generous, patriotic, often crazy and certainly wild, but with a contagious laugh, and the ability to make you feel as if you were the very best. Waking a man with this largess easily filled rooms with people, each also laughing even while they shed tears, all remembering his stories and their stories with him, in vivid happiness, recalling his prodigious love, feeling gratitude for their connection to him.
I will not, nor really could I pretend to know enough about boats or ships or vessels to explain the impact this man had on the maritime industry, although I will admit to wishing that I could. It is said, that Brian “fell in love with nearly every vessel he boarded.” My mother, his sister, sat outside the family business, but that did not stop our admiration for this seafaring world in which we were born into, this McAllister Towing. But if you wish to understand his impact on not only the port of New York but harbors of great importance near and far, I suggest you read his obituary. I guarantee you will be awed.
As with all legends, there are endless stories of their attributes. This crew of eight siblings, then less, now three, held me spellbound for all my years. They were the dream makers, the cautionary tales, our inspiration for love and work and trials and how to dance. They were loud and laughing and my mother’s family in a way that I’d never be. She adored them. And so did we. Their triumphs were magnificent, their failures absolute tragedy, and their every days loom larger than we could envision for ourselves; yet, we are driven to do just that, if only to honor them. This is perhaps what binds us still.
Walking through the front doors of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the steps lined with pipers, is not something I can explain either. Pride to even grab onto the coattails of such a man comes close, but hardly. The whole of the church and the Catholic funeral given over to sending his soul to a heavenly place: the mystery of faith unfolding in ritual. Blessed.
Military honors were bestowed too, because, beyond a man of faith, Brian was a patriot who had served. This makes me so very proud, because there was a time when young men of any background put their own life on the line for country, for our country. Parents of means sent their sons into battle, along side the vast myriad of men, but we all know this is no longer how the world works. Today’s world often singles out the impoverished to give up their sons and daughters, for the military, for the police, or any other job that puts their children in harm’s way. But not this generation. They knew sacrifice belonged to all citizens. I salute you Lieutenant Brian McAllister for yours.
Water makes up roughly 60% of us, but for we McAllisters I swear it is closer to 100. We are water people, who dive in whenever given the chance, regardless of weather or reason. Brian was no different. One of my last memories with him was after his sister Marjorie‘s funeral. It was January, and we were in Palm Beach, and afterwards we congregated at her club, on the beach. I, of course, brought my suit, and so, apparently, did he. Serendipitously, his son Buckley, my Uncle Brian and I found ourselves in that aqua-ocean, riding the waves, as we watched the last of the rain go off to sea. He saw the rainbow first. That was the way with him, he always was the one to find the kaleidoscope of possibilities. It was that very spirit that so many recalled during the almost three hours of eulogies spoken during the luncheon overlooking the East River.
Gathering for the first time since we buried our own mother 7 years ago, my siblings and I came to honor our sweet uncle. There was little question that we would all be there, traveling from where ever we found ourselves, and we were not alone. Scores of people retelling their own version of Brian gathered for an afternoon, celebrating his big life. We are only shadows to his accomplishments, but his industrious life makes me want to extend mine. Legends are generous like that, they find their joy in taking you along with them, in the sharing of all that mirth. At a time when our world can benefit from largesse I charge us all to find a way to give more, to our family our community our co-workers our country and most of all our small planet. Extend a hand when needed before even asked.
His son, Buckley McAllister reminded us of Brian’s enduring motto, “and keep the flag flying.” With that hopeful image and call to action we will endure his loss and persist.