I’m a firm believer that laughter is life’s best medicine. Which is why, when it becomes difficult to find things to laugh about we are facing our truest challenges. So many of you have been curious as to why my blogging has decreased in recent months – no, I did not become some whack bridezilla and no Nonna did not give up being funny for lent – it was because laughing itself was a very difficult task for my family in recent months.
Two weeks ago today we lost my great uncle to cancer. Nonna’s brother and the closest man I ever had to a grandfather.
He was, in short, the source of eternal laughter in my family.
Though I typically use this forum to communicate the crazy antics of my grandmother, my uncle, the supporting actor to her starring role, deserves to take center stage.
My uncle was a barber since his teenage years. For so many, the lasting image embedded in their mind of my uncle is him behind his barber chair. For me, however, it is him sitting just left of the head of the Christmas dinner table, next to his wife and across from my dad and my godfather.
It is no surprise that I was a nerd when I was younger. A typical head in a book, glasses far too large for the face, crooked bangs nerd. At family gatherings, particularly in my awkward pre-teen years, I was quiet and reserved…but observant. So observant that my uncle would often notice me listening to inappropriate conversations, trying to piece together the rapid Italian with the broken English. He never ushered me away or silenced everyone, he simply winked his infamous wink and smiled a knowing smile. And nearly every year…he told me I should write a book about what I observed that year.
He had a knack for making people feel special and welcome. And he did so by finding humor in nearly everything. Though my uncle himself was hysterically funny…what made him such a joy to be around was his laughter. His laugh rang out during every gathering – small or large – and was the type of laughter that made your troubles feel so far away. He poked fun without hurting feelings, and made sure that, if you were down, you’d be laughing with him in short order. He was an infectious personality. He created happiness wherever he was.
And the people that made him the happiest were the women in his life. My aunt, my cousins and (most of the time) his sisters. He was the type of husband, father and brother that nary a man could even aspire to be. He was affectionate and loving without being overbearing, considerate but masculine. He was one of those few men that struck the balance between hopeless romantic and a guy’s guy. Certainly, he was difficult to take care of, as he truly enjoyed being the caretaker, but he was loving and tender all the same. To the men in my family he was a role model, and to the women, he was what each one of us hoped to marry. And to my grandmother, he was the world.
My grandmother and uncle (and their younger sister) had a special relationship. Undoubtedly, they saw much tragedy in their lives – the type of tragedy that makes you lose your faith in humanity and God. But together, they forged an alliance that was unbreakable – even as we’ve learned, by death. My uncle was the only person who could heal my grandmother’s heart from pain and also, speak straight to her when she was out of line. He is, I truly believe, the only person who could put her in her place. This blend of friendship and family often inspires me to be there for my own sisters beyond the bloodline. Of course they shared stories and memories and so much laughter, but it was their ability to share these stories without speaking a word which made their relationship so special. The type of sibling relationship which is inspiring but also leaves you awestruck.
When cancer decided it was my uncles time to become God’s barber, he was surrounded by all the women of his life – physically and spiritually. I like to believe that in leaving that way he was able to leave a piece of his heart with all the people that he loved. He made his quiet exit from this world to the next peacefully, without too much pain, and surrounded by love.
And he sure as hell got the last laugh…his last words to my grandmother were “Maria, leave me alone.”
For the rest of my life, I will carry his special Christmas Day wink to me in my heart. The wink that made me feel important and the wink that told me it was okay to be who I was.
Uncle…I promise…my first book will be dedicated to you.