If you have ever been to the Festival Flea Market Mall on West Sample Road in Pompano Beach, Florida, than you have met Al the Pickle Man.  His place was the New York Pickle.  He was an over sized personality – everyone who shopped there knew him and many shopped there because of him.

He lived in my area up north for many years.  We knew him and loved him.  Oh so many years ago, he ran the local annual blood drive that we gave at.  You could not say no to him.  In those years, you gave because it meant that you would be able to get blood when you needed it.  At least that is what we thought.  My son was hospitalized at a very young age with a congenital heart defect.  He had open heart surgery and making sure there was enough blood for the surgery was a critical first step. 

After the surgery, Al came to visit.  My wife chatted with him and said she was surprised to get a bill for blood that was not covered by insurance.  He grabbed the bill and headed out.  An hour later he came back – told us it was all taken care of and said his good-byes.  A bit later, the lady from billing came into the room and told my wife that the bill had been wiped out – and she begged  “please don’t ever let him near us again.”  We found out later that the rules of blood donation had changed and the bill was a correct one.

Al was always there with a helping hand, a story, a joke and a friendly word.   His body, on the other hand, could not keep up with his personality.  He tried to retire to Florida in his early 50’s.  Sold his house locally and moved to the Boyton Beach area.  We would only see him when he came north.  But – we would get at least two phone calls a year – out of the clear blue sky.  He did not forget anyone.

The story is told that he and his wife were at a restaurant in Florida.  They ordered pickles with their sandwiches.  They had some really interesting words to describe the quality of those pickles.  If you come from the NYC area – you know what good pickles are.  So he tried to order them shipped down.  By the time he was done, he was now the Pickle Man at the New York Pickle. 

We purchased a vacation home in that area about 5 years ago.  The group of our friends and acquaintances who resided on the strip from Ft. Lauderdale to Jupiter all get together at each other’s homes every 6-8 weeks.  Our short visits to Florida often occurred when one of these gatherings was happening, and we would join them – as we did several months ago – at Al’s house.  He looked like hell, he could only get around outside of the house in a special electric wheel chair.  But his smile and the joy of life were still there, especially when he had a “new” audience for some of his stories.

We got the word on Thursday that he had passed and that he would be buried on Sunday up north at a cemetery near by.   There was no question we would be there.  It was to be a graveside service.

We expected only a handful of family and friends.  There were easily over 65 people there.  Family, friends who still lived up north, and even his/our friends from Florida who were visiting family up north.  They interrupted their vacations and drove hundreds of miles to say good-bye.  The service was performed by his niece, who told stories of her uncle.  The service was warm and sad for the passing of a good man.  I learned that his 71st birthday had been celebrated only two months ago and that it was set up as a Roast.  A eulogy if you will, since everyone knew that his days were numbered. 

This was a man who made the best of the hand that was dealt him.  The gathering of so many friends was a testament to him.  – Good Bye Al.

The cemetery is the same one where my dad is buried.  We visited his grave before we left to spend the afternoon with our grandchildren.