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The Big Man and The Boss

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(Many thanks to our pal Sean Leonard for being today’s guest blogger, and for sharing his family’s international brush with fame.)

My father has been in the insurance and investment business for over 50 years. During that time, he’s attended countless conventions around the world.

In their travels, he and my mom have visited fascinating places, among them Brazil, England, Germany, and Hawaii, and have never failed to come back with gifts for the kids and stories to go with them.

One such trip in the early eighties took them to Lucerne, Switzerland, and a chance meeting with rock ‘n’ roll royalty.

My mom is the loving mother of seven children, and was at the time the dean of students at our high school. You would think that in the day-to-day contact with adolescents she would have gleaned just a bit of knowledge on current popular trends and influences.

You might also have hoped that with the blaring music and non-stop television her children were enjoying, she would have picked up the names of one or two of the more important figures. To a certain extent she did, but let’s just say there were some gaps in her cultural literacy.

So, we weren’t surprised when she walked into a hotel gift shop in Lucerne and failed to recognize the large black gentleman standing next to her.

No one was minding the shop at the time, so in her personable way she struck up a conversation with the only other person around.

“I guess there’s no one here.”

“I see,” he said.

“Oh you speak English! Are you from the U.S.?”

“Yes, New Jersey.”

“Oh, my husband is from New Jersey! We’re here for the convention. Are you with a tour?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact,” he replied.

Hoping to get sightseeing tips on what to see in Lucerne, mom pressed on.

“What are they going to show you today?”

“Actually, I’m with a band and we’re touring Europe,” he said.

“Oh! That’s sounds wonderful. Are those your band mates?” she asked, pointing at a small group of people in the lobby.

“Yeah, that’s Bruce. Would you like to meet him?”

Even though she had no idea who “Bruce” was, she was always one to follow common courtesy.

“Absolutely!” she answered with enthusiasm.

The large gentleman formally introduced himself and led my mother over to meet the band.

“Bruce, I’d like you to meet my friend Judy. She and her husband are from Jersey.”

“Actually, I’m from California,” she corrected. “We both live in California now.”

“Great to meet you. Are you coming to the show tonight?” asked Bruce.

“No. I’m not quite sure what the plans are for tonight. The company always has some type of dinner or something.”

“Okay. Why don’t I leave some tickets for you?”

Mom agreed.

I’m not sure at what point my mom started to realize that this nice man and his friends were bigger than just some garden-variety garage band. Perhaps it was when a growing gang of people began swarming around them, taking pictures and soliciting autographs.

Whenever it was, it didn’t impress my parents enough to attend the concert that evening, but it did prompt them to request an autograph (which I’m sure mom got just in case any of her kids recognized them.)

She didn’t ask it of Bruce. Instead, she handed the pen to her new friend, who signed it, simply:

To Judy! Clarence “Big Man” Clemons.

(R.I.P. Big Man, 1942-2011)