There are so many aspects to the pandemic that have been so very sad that it would be difficult to list them in any prioritized fashion. But, should anyone who loves lists try, I think deserving of a slot toward the top of that list is how the virus has impacted the way we say our final goodbyes.
In so many obituaries for the past year, there have been many that have stated that due to COVID, no services would be made public or services would be held at a later time, making it so very difficult for those left behind.
I thought about that last November when I learned of the passing of John Zerante, affectionately known as Z to very many. Just as there are rituals both at birth and all along life’s path, there surely should be a ritual that acknowledges the end of a life, especially one so very well lived.
For Z, that acknowledgment of a life lived well comes this Saturday at St. Rose Church with Mass starting at noon, fittingly celebrated by Father David Ross, who, like Zerante, is a North-ender. Through John’s affiliation with the Knights of Columbus, Z came to know both Father Dave’s dad, Bob, and his grandfather, Sky.
I’d just seen Z less than three weeks before his passing, when John and I joined a group of other long-time friends over at The Inn Between in Botkins for some wings, beers, Browns and Bengals. When I heard of John’s passing, I thought of how recently I’d seen him and said incredulously what so many of us say when we learn of another’s sudden passing, as in “I just saw him,” as if somehow that might make death seem either rare or unfair. But, of course, it is neither. We all know how the final chapter of our life’s book reads, and as the Biblical Matthew has admonished all of us, when it comes to when that chapter will be ready for reading, we know not the day nor the hour.
Following Mass, there will be a chance to express our in-person condolences to John’s wife, Joyce, and children, Sharon, Kathi, John Jr. and Marci and all the others who saw a familial side of him known only to them. And, without question, there will be those who will lend comfort by telling the family that John now is with his beloved daughter Laurie, who was fitted for her wings in January of 2018.
For friends, it will be a chance to swap their favorite Z stories and celebrate the life he lived to the fullest. Those old enough will remember John as the youngest member of his 1952 St. Rose graduating class and one of the school’s finest athletes. In the spring of his junior year, it was Zerante who blew his fastball past hitter after hitter at St. Rose’s home baseball field, Faurot’s Diamond 7, as he helped lead that Rosarian baseball team to a perfect 15-0 season and a Class B state championship.
Others may remember Z’s deciding as a senior finally to try out for the varsity football team. With Zerante at quarterback, the team went 8-0-1, the best record in school history. Those with really good memories may even remember Zerante’s final football game, one that saw him throw four touchdown passes and kick four extra points.
Harry Johnson, who was a softball teammate of Z’s in the early 1960s, just might recall John’s rocket arm, especially that one Diamond 2 errant throw intended for Harry, who was playing first, when Zerante, from the grass behind shortstop, let loose a throw 20 feet over Harry’s head that both flew the fence behind first base and also North Shore Drive.
To emphasize Z’s competitive side that often fueled some angry outbursts, Harry also just might tell people about that league bowling night at the L & L Bowling Alley on North Street. John, still seething about his poor performance after leaving the alleys, stood at the intersection of North and Elizabeth Streets and launched a bowling ball down Elizabeth that was thrown with such force it rolled through the Wayne Street intersection.
Whether it was on a diamond, on a football field, on a basketball floor, in a pool hall, on a golf course or standing on a bank at Ferguson’s Reservoir holding a fishing rod, John was simply a natural.
However, beyond his athleticism, the prevailing memories of John Zerante, who lived his 85 allotted calendars to the fullest, will be as a loving husband, father and grandfather and, of course, a treasured friend. Many will recall a man who was a frequent volunteer, willing to help whenever there was a project worth completing, especially at his beloved Knights of Columbus, or whenever there was a friend who needed a helping hand.
I’m so glad the pandemic finally loosened its grip on us enough to allow those who knew Z well to say some deferred goodbyes. It is indeed life’s final ritual and surely one deserving for Chicago Heights-born but Lima-raised John R. Zerante Sr.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.