Uncle Chick

11 Feb

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I had many fathers growing up. Four, to be sure.

There was, albeit briefly, the man whose name that I carry. Then, and in some ways even more importantly, there were my mother’s brothers. Throughout my formative years three of these men lived steps away from my mother and brothers and me.

Honorable, hard-working and very decent men all, none were aligned with the warm & fuzzy school of male role modeling.

Least of all Uncle Chick.

Chick made his living delivering home heating oil and servicing the furnaces that burned it, demanding work considering that his street route literally spanned the whole of Brooklyn. His actual birth name is John, though nobody ever called him that.

As a very young boy I was certain that Uncle Chick didn’t much care for me. If he cared for me at all. Of all the uncles in my closely knit universe Chick seemed the hardest-edged and, frankly, the least interested in being a role model to the likes of me. Besides, he and his wife Frances had four of my cousins to raise.

A few hours after my father died Chick came up beside me. There were tears in both of our eyes.

“C’mon,” he said putting an arm around me, for the first time ever I am pretty certain. “Let’s go for a ride.”

And that is the moment when I realized how wrong I had been about my very dear uncle.

Chick passed away yesterday afternoon. We haven’t lived next door to each other in a lot of years now and so I was unable to visit with him in his final hours.

The last time Chick and I spent any quality time together was a couple summers ago, in the backyard of his home in Long Island. He proudly showed me the hundreds of tomatoes ripening in his garden, and a fig tree with more fruit on it than seemed plausible. Though no longer able to operate his small powerboat it nonetheless sat berthed at a dock where he could put eyes on it whenever he pleased.

For a couple hours that day it was only the two of us, just like on the ride we had taken in his black and white DeSoto so many years ago. Approaching 90 at the time Chick seemed much quicker to emotion than I was accustomed to witnessing. He surprised and delighted me by freely reminiscing about his elder brother Joe, the revered patriarch of our entire family.

When he finished telling a particularly heartwrenching story about his brother, one that I had never heard before and have not repeated, both of us were in tears.



Rest easy, uncle.

And thanks for the ride.

10 Responses to “Uncle Chick”

  1. John Giamundo February 11, 2020 at 11:19 am #

    Very nice article. Thanks, Mr. Meatball.

  2. Charlene February 11, 2020 at 12:33 pm #


  3. Claudia Risbara February 11, 2020 at 1:13 pm #

    So sorry about your uncle. It’s so difficult at our ages to lose the former generation. There’s so many memories…

  4. Kathy February 11, 2020 at 1:15 pm #

    Mister Meatball, Sorry for your loss. Through your writing, you so sincerely convey the gratitude and love you carry for your family.

  5. Andrew Sordoni February 11, 2020 at 2:29 pm #

    It is my supposition that your surname and that of your uncles end in a vowel and further that your family culture is your greatest asset. May he Rest In Peace and May God Bless America.

  6. Gillian February 11, 2020 at 6:02 pm #

    I’m sorry to hear about your uncle. I love reading the stories about your family, and the recipes. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Denise February 11, 2020 at 10:33 pm #

    I am so sorry to hear of your loss. God Bless. Rest Uncle Chick. You have done your work and then some. Bless you and all you were.

  8. James Onderdonk February 11, 2020 at 11:14 pm #

    Sorry to hear this news, Ralph. Thinking of you. Jimmy and Mary

  9. Don Dickinson February 12, 2020 at 6:54 pm #

    My condolences to you and your family.

  10. Ralph S. February 25, 2020 at 5:12 pm #

    Your writings about family are heartwarming and carry with them messages that many of us can learn from. I am sorry for your loss.

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