Tag Archives: Uncle Chick

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.

Again.

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Rest easy, uncle.

And thanks for the ride.

Three crabs in a red pot

30 Jun

I don’t know how he’s gonna take this, but when I think about my uncle Chick, I think about crabs.
(That can’t have come out right. Better explain.)
See, Chick lives in Long Island, NY, and his property backs up onto a canal. He’s got a dock, where he keeps a small boat, and where you could hang around all day watching other people going by on theirs.
It’s nice.
But to see the best thing about my uncle’s setup you need to look very closely. Tied to the wood railing that leads to the dock is a weathered and not very thick piece of line, which drapes down along a retaining wall and into the canal.
At the end of the line is a crab pot. It’s Chick’s, and it gets a lot of action. Always has.
Chick called me the other day to see if I could make it down for his annual Fourth of July feast. Which of course got me thinking about, well, you know.
And so I did it my uncle’s way. Just not with the blue crabs he uses, because I can’t get those up here in Maine, I can only get the local rock crabs.
I couldn’t bear to cut into a live crab and so I steamed them a couple minutes and then cleaned the insides.
And into the red sauce they went.
Simmered for a couple hours at low heat.
And thrown together with tagliatelle.
Hope to see you this weekend, Chick. But if not I promise — for real this time, I mean it, probably in July sometime — to make it down for a boat ride this summer.
And for some of your crabs.
(Hey, Vito, show this to your old man, would you. Last I looked there wasn’t a computer at his place, so drag him over to your house and fire up yours!)