Friday, July 18, 2014

Remembering Tony

This blog is dedicated to my cousin Raymond Anthony "Tony" Burns who passed away on July 11, 2014 at the age of 53.

Being a few years older than Tony, I actually remember when he was born. I remember him being around eight months old and crawling around on the floor. Although his first name was Raymond, no one ever called him that except his mother, who was my Aunt Lucy. It seems that my Aunt Belen who was her older sister decided she wanted to call him Tony. And so the name Tony stuck. My younger sister Jeanette would occasionally hear our Aunt Lucy calling "Raymond" whenever he was in trouble. And Jeanette always wondered, "Who is Raymond and why is she calling him?"

My father used to call Tony "Antoine", by the French version of Anthony.

Our mothers come from a very large family. Our grandparents had 13 children together, but only 11 were surviving by the time I was born. When I was a little kid, I used to ask my mother how many brothers and sisters she had. She would always say, "I have six brothers and four sisters." So I would say six plus four is 10 and with you Mommy, that makes 11! The best part of being part of an extended large family was having so many cousins. I had lots of cousins! Aunt Josie and Uncle Albert had four children. Aunt Nena and Uncle Frank had five children. Aunt Lucy and Uncle Jim had three children. Uncle Ben and Aunt Charlene had five children. Aunt Belen had two children. I was always counting my cousins and bragging to other people about how many cousins I had. I really loved all of them very much and have fond memories of all of them.

The family that was closest to my family was Aunt Lucy and Uncle Jim. They had three sons all about the same ages of the children in my family. David is my age only three months older than me. Andy was my brother Gilbert's age, they were only seven months apart. Tony was a couple years older than my sister Jeanette. But we all paired up and hung out together every time we were at one another's homes. Our families were very close because Aunt Lucy and my mother were literally best friends. They were only one and one half year's apart in age. Another thing our families had in common was that my father was a firefighter and so was my Uncle Jim. So it was the case of two sisters married to men who joined the fire department. It seemed while I was growing up that we were together all the time eating meals together and having a good time. Life was different back then. We would just freely visit at each other's houses. I was as comfortable at my Burns' family home as I was in my own home. Needless to say, David, Andy, and Tony were not just cousins to me. They felt more like brothers. I loved each of them just as though they were my brothers.

We spent summers together going on camping vacations. I remember quite a few camping trips. I did not enjoy camping because I wasn't a "roughing it" kind of person. But my dad and my uncle loved going fishing together and my aunt and mother came along and enjoyed the fresh air and cooler climate in the mountains. My male cousins were full of constant energy and the trips were good for them. And Tony always seemed to be the funny guy in the bunch and loved pulling pranks and jokes. He was the one who was always in the background laughing. Tony was the one who always had the smart comeback. He was the one with all the wit in the family. Tony knew what to do for a laugh.

Tony loved to tease and make fun. I spent a couple weeks at their house in the summer of 1969. Apparently my family went camping and my aunt and uncle were unable to go that time. This was the summer I had learned to sew. Tony used to come into the room where I was sewing and ask me what I was doing. Sometimes I'd say, "I'm just going to baste the pieces together." So Tony would then ask, "What does that mean?" I'd answer, "It means when you sew by hand." Ugh! Questions, questions and more questions! And then he would tease and make fun of me later! I still remember the week I was at the Burns home because that's when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. I was busy in the back room sewing. Then Tony and my Aunt Lucy came in and told me to come out to the living room to watch the moon landing. Tony even said, "You can stop sewing now and go watch the astronauts land on the moon!" Tony wanted to make sure I would watch the Apollo 11 astronauts land and walk on the moon.

Our mothers joined Jehovah's Witnesses together which caused quite a bit of tension in the family. My dad and uncle were not happy. My aunt forced all three boys to study Watchtower theology. David and Andy finally became convinced that the Watchtower was the truth. Tony, however, was a different story. While the rest of us in my family were convinced that this Watchtower was the truth, Tony was the only one of us kids who would not accept it. Looking back, I know he was the smartest one of us. Tony told the story of how his mother forced him to "study" through high school. He was about 11 years old when our mothers joined this organization. As Tony neared the end of his studies with the "brother" who was trying to indoctrinate him, the "brother" asked if he was ready to get baptized. Tony said "no". He was not getting baptized. This "brother" then asked, "Well when do you think you will be ready?" Tony said, "NEVER!"

Tony joined the army after high school and served our country proudly. Although we lost track for a time when he was overseas and not living close to me, my love for Tony always remained strong. When his brother Andy came down with leukemia in 1998 of I cried because I knew that because he was a Jehovah's Witness and would not accept blood products, that death would be imminent. And he did die very quickly too, living only eight weeks or so following his diagnosis. I never dreamed that Tony would get the same disease.

Tony lived for seven months after his diagnosis of leukemia. He fought the disease with chemotherapy as valiantly as he could. But by early March 2014 he fell victim to an infection that nearly killed him. That infection also left him so weak that he could no longer fight the leukemia. I am grateful that God gave him this extra time because it gave me the chance to go see him twice before he died last week. It gave me the chance to pray for him too and to reflect that every day is a gift from God. I am also grateful that when Tony was in the hospital I was reunited with two cousins I had lost track of because our mothers became estranged from one another many years ago and I never saw those cousins again. My cousin Ken had related that Tony's wish was for us all to be reunited. This is what I call a "God incidence", when God is working and you do not really expect Him in the situation. But these two cousins, Evelyn and Ken who are brother and sister are Christians and that filled me with such joy! So not only did I regain two cousins, but I gained two cousins who are also my brother and sister in Christ. I am reunited with them all because of Tony!

He leaves behind a wife, Candy, daughter Cheyenne, daughter Marialisa, son Antonio, and seven grandchildren. He also leaves behind his father Jim, his brother David, and four nephews. He was predeceased by his brother Andy and his mother Lucy. There are also aunts, uncles, and many cousins who will also miss him very much.

I am very glad that Tony had confirmed his belief and faith in Jesus Christ before he died. Although I will always miss Tony, I know that he is in heaven now, completely healed of his illness and at peace with the Lord.

Above, Tony in the hospice facility surrounded by cousins. The picture below is Tony and myself in 2009 at our Tucson High School class reunion. He was class of 1978 and I was class of 1974. We weren't in high school at the same time, but it was fun going to reunions together.


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