My favourite memory of Uncle Joe was at my nonno’s wake – nonno is Italian for “grandpa” – when I was six or seven, I can’t remember just now. What I do remember is how sad my mother was, how sad my aunt was, and how my nonna was holding up surprisingly well under the circumstances. But she was always a strong woman.
Uncle Joe took me down the street for dinner. It was a brief respite from the gentle chaos of the wake, and I was hungry, always hungry for spaghetti. My cousin Johnny was there, too, and maybe there were others, but it’s twenty years ago now and my memory stalls.
Between mouthfuls of pasta in marinara sauce, I spilled some on my dress. A small stain, but it contrasted enough with the taupe linen to alert everyone within a 500-foot radius that I Was A Slob. I felt awful. My mom had made the dress, as she made most of my clothing, taking extra care to ensure I always looked as beautiful as she and my dad thought I was.
I felt absolutely despicable when we went back to the wake and Mom saw the stain. She was so upset already, and here I had contributed to this painful day with my own carelessness.
I remember Uncle Joe telling me it was okay, that my mom still loved me and so did everyone else. And then he pointed to his cheek for a big sloppy kiss, grinning, and I obliged. That was always our ritual.
Last New Year’s was no exception. And now he’s gone. Just this March he was diagnosed with throat cancer, and he passed away this evening.
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I wish I could eulogize him properly here, but the news is not even an hour old and I’m just meandering, thinking, sending all my good energy towards my Aunt Louise, my cousins, Uncle Joe’s relatives, and my mom. On the phone just a little bit ago, my mom and I made tentative arrangements for me to fly to Chicago on Thursday morning and fly back either Friday night or Saturday morning before work. I want to be there. I want to be there for my family whenever I can, especially at times like this.
And to say goodbye properly, with a kiss on Uncle Joe’s cheek.