My Uncle Pete and My Aunt Millie
I've been thinking about my family and my childhood a lot lately...my Uncle Pete passed away last week, I guess losing the people who were so prevalent in your formative years can really throw you a curve ball. My childhood was pretty idyllic in most ways. My family was very close and while my mom didn't have brothers or sisters, my great aunts and uncles were always around. We weren't a very large family, maybe that's why we were so close... The night my uncle passed away my sweet husband asked me to share some of my memories of my Uncle Pete. As I was going through them I started to realize that my almost obsessive fondness for tradition probably stems from my growing up. Every Thanksgiving was spent at my Grandma and Nana's... every Christmas Eve my Nana made homemade tortellini and the whole family would come over, they would all wait for me to get home from my Christmas with my dad and he would come in and we would both get our bowls of tortellini soup...then every Christmas morning I would wake up early and had to wait in the hall while my mom got my grandmother into her wheel chair and called my Uncle Jim so he could drive over - once he was there I could go see what Santa brought then we would head to my Aunt Millie's for Christmas dinner. Summers were filled with evenings of grilled steak, games of kick the can, chasing my Aunt Millie's chihuahua Buffy around the yard with my cousin Chris while my Uncle Clyde yelled at us to stop.
My Uncle Pete was my grandmother's brother. He was so handsome that when I was a teenager I would show my friends the photo from his pro baseball days. I have two very strong memories of my uncle...the first one was the day my grandmother passed away. We were all gathered at the house, she had had hospice for several days, my mother and the hospice nurse were with her. When the hospice nurse walked into the family room over to my Nana, my great-grandmother, I knew. I was 11 years old. I got up to run to my mom but my Aunt Millie (my grandmother's sister) stopped me and pulled me into a hug. Soon the hospice nurse came to get me to take me to my mom. As we walked through the dining room I saw my Uncle Pete sitting alone, in the corner with his head in his hands crying. It was the first time I had seen a man cry and it crushed me.
My next memory was of the day of my great grandmother's funeral. My Nana was, and actually still is, indescribably a part of my heart, I don't know how else to describe it but I miss her so much that I ache for her some days. I was 14 when she died and the day of her funeral I could not bring myself to walk up to her open casket, I just did not want to see her that way. I was standing at the back of the church waiting for them to close the casket...my Uncle Pete got up and walked up to her, leaned over, then turned and began walking to me. He reached, took my hand, opened it, and gently placed my Nana's rosary, that had just moments before been wrapped in her hand, into my hand. He kissed my cheek and walked away. I'm sure he never knew how huge that was for me.
I have very little of that side of my family left but my memories are strong and I will forever be grateful for the childhood they gave me.