LIFELONG MUMMER Jimmy Passio Sr. was such a naturally joyous guy, he used to say that, when his time came to leave this world, he'd like to die during the Yuletide, his favorite season.
That way, his funeral could be combined with the raucous Christmas and New Year celebrations that his big South Philly family has long been known for.
"He'd say, 'Carry my body on New Year's. Let me go out with one last parade!' " recalls his son, Jim Passio Jr. "He wanted us to dance and laugh. He didn't want anyone to be sad."
Jimmy Sr. did, indeed, make his exit near the holidays. On Dec. 23 he passed away at age 87 of dementia and heart failure. By his prior request, his remains were cremated.
At his funeral this morning at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Catholic Church, his urn of ashes will grace a table near the altar, along with a sequined Mummers costume and a pair of golden slippers from his glory days as a Mummer in numerous bands.
Afterward, his family and friends will honor Jimmy Sr.'s wish to take part in one final, noisy street march. Escorted by the Passio family's Fife and Drum Band, they'll ferry his ashes on a four-block strut from the church at 9th and Watkins to 836 McClellan St., the house where he was born and raised.
Picture a New Orleans jazz funeral, with a Philly soundtrack.
Grandsons Frank Jr., Anthony, Nicholas and Michael, respectively, will play the sax, snare drum, bass and cymbals. Grandson Jimmy III will carry a flag. Jimmy Jr. and brother Frank Sr. will carry their pop's urn.
"Frank usually plays the fife, but it'll be too hard" for this particular parade, says Jim Jr. "I think we're going to be pretty touched and emotional."
Once inside the McClellan Street house, they'll play Jimmy Sr.'s favorite tunes - "Happy Days Are Here Again" and "O, Dem Golden Slippers" - and then share memories, over lunch at 2nd Street Annie's Pub, of how Jimmy Sr. loved nothing more than to make people smile.
"He lived a good life. We know it was his time to go," says Jim Jr. of his dad, who retired from Philadelphia Traffic Court in 1982 as an assistant to the presiding judge. "But it doesn't make it less sad to lose him."
Still, he says, "Knowing we're doing exactly what he wanted us to do is making a definite difference in our loss."
It's been a rough few weeks for the Passio family.
Last month, Jimmy Sr.'s sister, Antoinette, died at age 82. She'd been living at the McClellan Street house at the time of her death.
Then, three days after Jimmy Sr. died, Angelina Colma Norton, 87, his sister-in-law, passed away.
Her funeral is Thursday.
"It's a pretty terrific ordeal for one family to deal with," says Jim Jr. "It's especially hard on my mom," Jennie, 84, who lives with daughter Millie Canora.
What a comfort, then, that traditions begun by the Passio elders have not died with them but are sustaining their offspring.
Take that Passio Fife and Drum Band. It was created 101 years ago by Jimmy Sr.'s father and uncles, who were also Mummers. The Passios played, gratis, at neighborhood functions, small political rallies and fundraisers for people in need.
Each succeeding generation of Passios has had members in the band, or in the Mummers. Over the arc of time, the musical thread of connection in this family has stayed so strong, it's more like a cable.
And the legacy of family generosity has been inspiring.
"We were taught by example that you help those in need, no matter what," says Jim Jr. "My dad would give you the last dollar in his pocket, even if it meant he didn't pay his own bills.
"He'd take up collections in the neighborhood for people if they got burned out of their house, or had someone sick in the family. Nothing made him happier than giving someone a check."
Even as his dementia progressed and he had to be admitted to a nursing home, says Jim Jr., his father's cheery spirit never dimmed.
"The nurses told me if they had a bad weekend, they couldn't wait to come to work on Monday to see my dad. He always said the right thing to make them feel happy."
Jimmy Sr. is survived by his wife, three children, 11 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
They all love the Mummers but none, Jim Jr. concedes, have glitter in their blood the way his dad did.
"That's why we wanted to honor him with this last parade." he says. "He deserves it."
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