Tom Pelle has known Richard and the Petrone family for over 27 years. He wrote this essay and put together this 7 1/2 minute video featuring Bruce Springsteen’s “You’re Missing.”

* * *

I’ve known Rich for 27 years. My family and I moved in next door to the Petrone family in Cherry Hill, NJ in August of 1978 when I was 16. At the time, I was very defiant about moving. As a teenager rooted in South Philly and about to enter my senior year of high school, the last thing I wanted to do was move to a suburban South Jersey community. I remember sitting in our family room sulking when my mom came in and yelled for me to “come outside and meet our new neighbors, the Petrones.”

Reluctantly, I went outside. There on the side of our house in the grass stood this attractive woman and two bright-eyed beautiful kids. From the moment I met them, I knew that they were something special. Marge greeted me with the warmth and kindness of a long-lost relative. There she was, all bubbly and spirited with these two playful kids, Richard and Christine (or Little Rich and Dean as I knew them). Later that day, I went over to their house and met Big Rich. I thought “man, what a nice guy.” Big Rich offered to give me the house tour, but not before we sat down at the kitchen table and had dinner. While touring the house, I see a picture of Bruce Springsteen on the wall. I shouted to Big Rich, “Hey, you like Bruce, too?” “What?, I’m a huge Bruce fan!” he replied. From that moment on, I knew I was going to get along great with this family.

rich_tom-CopyDuring the early 80’s, I would stop in the Petrone house from time to time to say hello and catch up on what was going on in their lives. They always made me feel like a welcome member of the family. I was never able to leave there without sitting down at the kitchen table and having something to eat. At that point in time, Little Rich and I were pretty much on different levels in life. I was a rebellious adolescent and Rich was still just a kid next door. Even so, I always liked to talk to him about what was going on in his life. We both especially liked music and ice hockey and loved to talk about the Flyers. Once in a while, I would play street hockey in front of his house with Rich and the Mancini brothers (Armand and Vinny) who lived across the street from us.

During the late 80’s, something special happened. Rich and the Mancini brothers had now grown up, and as adults we all started to develop a greater appreciation for one another. Rich started to confide in me more about what was going on his life. Whether it was about some new band he was into or something that was troubling him, whenever he wanted to talk, I was always ready to listen. As the youngest of 4, I had always been someone’s younger brother. Now, for the first time in my late 20’s, I felt like I had become someone’s big brother.

I remember one night when Rich called and asked me to take a walk with him. We went to a nearby playground and sat on the swings. He said that he had something important to tell me, and I could see that he was really nervous. “Dude, I haven’t told anybody about this yet but,….Julie’s pregnant and I’m not sure what I should do. What do you think?” he said. I wasn’t ready for such a question, but felt honored that he would ask for my advice. I’m not sure if what I had said to him had swayed his decision in any way, but he ended up having a daughter that he named Angela; which turned out to be a very good decision.

Over the years, Rich and I have always stayed in touch and remained close friends. With our busy lives, we would sometimes go months at a time without talking, but then with a simple phone call, we would pick up right where we left off. We talked about everything in life as any friends would, but the one thing we seemed to talk about more than anything else was music. We both have always had a great appreciation and a passion for music. We attended numerous concerts together dating back to the mid 80’s. Although we didn’t always agree with each other’s musical tastes, one thing we always agreed upon was how we felt about the music, songwriting and live performances of Bruce Springsteen. I thank Big Rich for lending a hand in that. We mutually felt very inspired and moved by the passion, honesty, soulfulness and spirituality of Bruce’s music. We would jokingly refer to Bruce as “# 2” stemming from a comment I made during one of the shows that Bruce was second only to Jesus.

On Bruce’s last concert tour following the release of “The Rising” in 2003, Rich and I went to 8 shows together between Philly, New Jersey and New York. If it was up to Rich, we would have just gone on tour with the band. Several of the songs that Bruce wrote for the “The Rising” were inspired by the tragic events of September 11th. For most of the shows, he performed a song about a third of the way through the set list that for most people was the “bathroom break” song. For Rich and I, it was a song that we really looked forward to. It was called “You’re Missing”. The sad lyrics, haunting violin and the sincerest expressions on the faces of the band members were so powerful and moving that we felt awed to witness such an experience. After one of the song’s performances, Rich said to me, “Every time I hear that song I think of Ang (Angela) and of how devastated I would be if anything ever happened to her.” There’s such an unnerving irony about that comment now.

Rich is authentic, the real deal, a true friend. His heart and soul are genuine. Most people can count their true friends on one hand. Until he returns, I’ll be counting one less on my hand. The last time I saw Rich was a brief visit to him in November. I handed him a copy of Bruce’s handwritten set list from the “Vote for Change Tour” show we had attended a month earlier. Our last communication was an email exchange in February, about a day or two before he disappeared. We discussed our eager anticipation of Bruce’s next CD release due out this April.

I haven’t stopped listening to Bruce since I first found out about Rich’s disappearance. I used to always smile whenever I listened to Bruce. Now, I mostly cry.

Rich, I miss you, buddy. Please come back soon.

Your pal,