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When you grow up in sports, you tend to accrue a lot of friends. And, as such, a lot of honorary family members, as well.

I only have a handful of actual uncles; I have a great many “uncles by softball.” They began becoming a part of my life from the time I was born through my father’s men’s fastpitch softball team. Then came my own fastpitch softball years, during which I was coached by my dad and his friends and gained yet another batch of uncles in the dads of my friends.

A few weeks ago, one of them, Larry Covey, was killed in a terrible accident.

It was one of those freak occurrences for which there is simply no explanation. One moment, he was here; the next, he was gone. And as anyone who has ever lost someone in that manner knows, it is a pain compounded exponentially by the confusion and disorientation that follow.

There is no time to prepare, no time to force yourself to adjust to the reality that they will soon be gone. There is only their literal disappearance and the gaping hole it leaves behind – the clothes in the closet, the snacks in the fridge, the dishes in the sink… the astounding and devastating amount of unfinished plans.

I spoke to my friend Brandi the night Larry passed as she tried to make sense of the senseless. But in between, we laughed about him, too. And that was the most fitting tribute of all, because Larry loved to make people laugh.

He had a quiet grace, an intelligence, a giving spirit, and a wry wit that lent themselves perfectly to his favorite role: host. Whether it was caring for the dietary needs of patients at Artesia General Hospital for many years or opening his home and his kitchen to entertain family and friends alike, he cared about people.

His wit was my favorite thing about him. He had a swift dart of a comment about most things, delivered with the straight face of a natural comedian.

When one of my high-school English teachers assigned a linguistics exercise through which we were to ask three different people to name the word they associated with certain descriptors, the first person I thought of was Larry. Needless to say, he did not disappoint. And may very well have invented his own language that day.

I remember his love of a good, ripe, salted and peppered tomato. His Marilyn Monroe fandom. His love for his family.

Larry would have celebrated his 61st birthday Friday, and as such, I wanted to write about him. To tell my friend and her mother, Avra, and brother, Christopher, that I loved him like the uncle he was and how lucky I feel to have had him as a fixture of my childhood and teen years.

But I wanted to close with the picture of Larry that has always sprung first into my mind – and always will – when someone mentions his name because it is not sad… not sad at all. It’s hilarious.

Brandi and her family had recently acquired a hot tub, which they installed in the backyard of their Bullock Avenue home, and she invited me over one night for a nice, relaxing soak.

Her parents weren’t home at the time, but at some point, unbeknownst to us, they returned, and Larry must’ve spotted us.

A few moments later, he burst through the backdoor into the yard like a matador entering the ring, clad in a particularly loud pair of swim trunks and shades, a cocktail umbrella balanced jauntily in his glass of iced tea.

That was such a perfect dad move… denoted by Brandi’s protestations of “DaaaAAAAD!!”

That was Larry. I’ll miss him.

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