We moved to 834-B in Heritage Hills in the spring of 2008. We’d sold our home of 23 years, and though it was only five miles away, the stress of packing and downsizing consumed me for weeks. Our two sons were now grown, and moving day with two men and a husband, each insisting that his way was the only way of packing; then, strategically transferring their possessions, was simply too much for me. We had Memorial Day weekend to finish, and I remember feeling grateful because I was scheduled to work for two of the three days.
Somehow the men managed to complete the move, and together we began the unpacking and arranging our new home. Along with this, I quickly became overwhelmed with confusion and doubt about condo living—the rules, regulations, fees and expectations seemed endless.
However, I was pleasantly surprised when I met my new neighbors. My doubt faded as I gained insight and acceptance from their years of living in Heritage Hills. I soon learned that Condo 30 is made up of 60 homes.
There were three men—husbands, fathers and grandfathers—all of whom were lawyers who profoundly changed my perspective. Not only did I adjust to sharing a small space with my neighbors, the time we spent together gave me a sense of connectivity, as well as respect for their life experience and unique traits.
My husband had parked his pick-up truck in our driveway just after the last load was carried in. It was then that I got a call from our condo president and neighbor, Bill Friedman. He kindly welcomed us, and explained that he didn’t want to begin our friendship on a bad note, but informed me that we could not leave the truck parked in the driveway. It was simply not allowed. I assured him we were just moving the last of our things, and that Gary kept the pick-up in his yard with other equipment for his job.
Soon after that phone call, I came to spend more time with Mr. Friedman in a more formal state of affairs. I took the position of secretary on the Condo Board of Managers for several years. Though small in stature, his giant heart “overruled” much of the time. It was easy to see that his many years as an attorney gave him the experience and skills to be president. This service was voluntary, and he generously dedicated so much of his time to the welfare of all. Though he still practiced law part-time, he spent hours organizing our meetings, and constantly dealt with insurance, maintenance and financial issues, as well as unit owner complaints and conflicts. He patiently listened to all sides of the story, and worked to find fair settlements for everyone. His manner was calm, his experience diverse. He had a great sense of humor and loved to socialize. Bill proudly served his country in World War II. He was politically active and enjoyed the Heritage Hills Men’s Club. He spent time travelling with his wife. He was clearly proud of his adult sons and daughter, as well as his grandchildren.
The second attorney, my neighbor Matt, entered my new life in Heritage Hills back when we were still overcome by moving boxes and furniture. Several hours after the trucks were gone, we struggled to unpack, sort and organize. With the door open, I was only a few feet from my closest neighbor. I turned to respond to a friendly voice. “Hello, I’m Rosemarie Coppola.”
She smiled warmly, “You look like you could use a break and a cool drink, why don’t you come and sit on my deck for few minutes?” Returning her smile, I followed as she led me through her inviting home, to the deck adorned with colorful flowers, and wicker furniture covered by fluffy pillows. I could feel my tired muscles relax as I sat, and was greeted by her grinning husband, Matt. His eyes gleamed a warm, sincere welcome, as he kindly offered me an icy drink, and politely asked his wife if she wanted one, too. Immediately I was entranced, charmed by his consideration. He appeared distinguished, and though bald, I was captivated by his sincere welcome and a smile that lit up his face. I got the feeling that nothing could rush him, as if I was a dignitary, and nothing but the best would do.
Matt gave us the refreshments, then left us to chat. As Rosemarie and I got to know each other, I relaxed, feeling content, and silently hoping that these neighbors would become good friends. Matt never failed to offer a wave and a heartwarming smile. He was a cigar smoker (never inside), so he was often seen in the car lighting up. Just the smell made me grin.
When Matt died, his loving family, including 12 grandchildren, spoke about him in church. Apparently, Matt was known for his sweet tooth, and spent every Sunday baking with his grandchildren. For hours they created cookies and cakes, which I knew Matt had a weakness for.
When Matt was only 17, he joined the U.S. Navy and served until 1945. He had many long conversations, and lasting connections with neighbors who had also dedicated their time in service to our country.
As the months slipped by, the winter holidays brought an invitation to Matt and Rosemarie’s Christmas party for all the neighbors.
On a cold dark night in mid-December, we were welcomed into the haven of warmth created by happiness, carefully crafted decorations and wonderful food.
It was that night that I met Aldo Nastasti and his wife, Marie. They owned a lovely home across the street, and had five sons. Aldo was a long-time friend, an attorney, who knew Matt well. At evening, I watched Aldo, constantly at his wife’s side. It was easy to see that her memory was not clear. He was considerate and cared for his wife, made sure she joined in conversation and filled her plate with delectable treats and desesrts. I met Aldo again unexpectedly at Sunday Mass, on an Easter morning. Both he and I distribute Holy Communion, a ministry I’ve been a part of for years. I’ll always remember his warm smile, and thinking how a man of his years was so neat and impeccably dressed in his starched shirt and pressed suit. Mr. Nastasi also served his country as a Marine, the flag proudly displayed in front of his home.
Sadly, in 2015, all of my lawyer friends passed away, leaving their families and neighbors lost without them.
It wasn’t until their passing that I leaned more about what devoted men they truly were.
On March 13, Aldo died. I discovered soon after that he wanted Marie to remain in their home with the caretakers he had chosen for her. He also faithfully brought Holy Communion home to her every week. His compassion and dedication never stopped. His loved his wife for always.
Bill Freidman passed away on Sept. 12. I think his illness kept him at home, yet he practiced law and maintained social connections.
I still see the struggle his family has without him.
And on Nov. 5, Matt died, just one day before his birthday. Rosemarie worked tirelessly to provide comfort and dignity for him at home. There were days when I saw him settled in a wheelchair, smiling from ear to ear, as he smoked his cigar in the garage. What I didn’t know about Matt was that as a judge, he was dedicated to helping single mothers and fought for the best interest of children. He worked as a Family Court judge and had a positive impact for many. He dedicated his knowledge and time to juveniles who needed guidance and direction.
So, how do I know heaven has lawyers, too? Because each of them lived with their lives giving to others, sharing their special grace and compassion with others. I was blessed to know these men. Through friendship, a bond was formed in my life that could only be described as “a little bit of heaven on Earth.”