I called him Uncle Frank, but he wasn’t actually my uncle. Although he WAS married to my favorite aunt. SHE was only related because she had been married to my mother’s younger brother. And divorced him, back in the day, when such things were only talked about in hushed tones.
Although she had good reason. Very good reason.
Once that happened, things in my family started deconstructing, although I couldn’t have imagined then how much further they would fall apart. That came later.
But back to Uncle Frank, who died unexpectedly this week, in his sleep and without pain. He was 93. I think.
My mother wasn’t sure what to make of him when he showed up in my aunt’s life. He was a really attentive husband, the kind my mom only wished she, herself, had. And of course, Mom probably worried that accepting him might show disloyalty to her brother. Who had no such qualms about loyalty, himself, having taken advantage of my mother for decades.
My mom didn’t care though. He was “family” so she made allowances. As most families do. But not all. Nope, not all.
But of our many aunts and uncles, these two were our favorites and growing up we spent all holidays with them.
Until the divorce.
And then, not again. Which was a notable loss, to me, at least. It was the first big life change I experienced among the family. It would not be the last.
When Uncle Frank came along some years later, he brought my aunt great happiness and the first security she’d known. The Greatest Generation valued stability and security and if a man was nice, had a good job and a house, he was a good catch. Not much different, today, to be honest.
There was absolutely nothing to dislike about him and so finally, even my mother had to admit that he was a pretty good guy.
When Michael and I remarried, we’d visit our hometown of Rochester, NY and always have breakfast with my aunt and Uncle Frank. She was the last one left who could provide perspective on my mother and that side of the family. Institutional history. And boy, would we talk!
I asked questions. Many. Although I definitely got the vibe that there were some places she wouldn’t go.
We Sicilians are big on omerta.
But we enjoyed our bacon and eggs and conversation, and after my aunt died in 2018 we still had our annual breakfast with Uncle Frank by himself. Tears were shed by all that first breakfast without my aunt. And we always remembered him at Christmas with a gift basket, as we had done when my aunt was alive.
Covid changed things and those breakfasts had ceased, at least temporarily. And now, they’re history, gone with Uncle Frank.
Uncle Frank was the last of my parents’ generation to pass and that’s brought up some emotion for me. I’ve experienced a lot of loss in recent years and, and some them are clearly markers of this senior stage in life that I simply can not relate to. But of course, here I am. No idea how I got this old. So the markers always come as a bit of a shock.
The Queen’s death was one such marker. Uncle Frank’s is a more intimate one. The last to go of that generation. That leaves…my generation. I’ve lost some of those already.
Unlike my aunt, Uncle Frank held no institutional family memories he could share with us. He’d come into the picture too late. We didn’t know him that well. But he seemed well-liked and respected by his stepchildren, my cousins. And he should have been.
He was a good man. A solid man.
I’m glad my aunt had him in her life and for many decades, too.
Although I am connected with a couple of those cousins on social media, I’m not sure I would’ve seen posts about his death. They don’t interact with my page so they don’t come up in my feed.
But the cousin who is now the matriarch of that family (and younger than me!) was nice enough to text me the news after he passed. Otherwise, I might not have learned of his death.
Maybe you’ve figured out that most of my family is not in my life.
There’s omerta, and then, well, Sicilians are big on vendetta, too.
This is not my choice, although seeing the lay of the land over time, in the end it might have been. Maybe. But probably not.
I’m Sicilian, too. But vendetta is not my thing, and while omerta does have its place, I don’t see it the way some of my family does.
Life goes by in the blink of an eye, I don’t see any sense in the kind of exclusion that goes on in some families, including mine. And of course, others I’ve known. It’s clannish, for one, and it can be just plain mean at times. And to be honest, my mother tried to exclude Uncle Frank, at least at first. So yeah, family history. I learned a lot about that at our breakfasts.
But people will always be who they are. That’s a life truth.
I am more INclusive. In fact, I am famous for putting together groups of women who have nothing in common but me, then end up friends. I am not possessive in that way. And I never want anyone to feel they have been left out. It’s not a good feeling. (Although I can name a couple of times that has bitten me on the ass. But still, for good or for bad, that’s who I am.)
I am also about reconciliation. When my aunt told me that my mother had finally admitted her appreciation of Uncle Frank I felt it had been a reconciliation of sorts. At last! Because, as the many lawyers in my family would say, res ipsa loquitur: the matter speaks for itself. A good guy is a good guy, there is nothing more to say about him.
Although I wasn’t close to him by any stretch of the imagination, I cried when I considered Uncle Frank’s death because I also appreciated him. You can never have too many good men, in my opinion. The loss of one, counts. “A few” is just not enough.
I know men who think they are good men and maybe they are, in some respects, but. not in enough. He was good in all the ways that mattered.
So, here’s to Uncle Frank. A member of the Greatest Generation. A kind man. A true Christian. Someone who was good to everyone he knew. Who treated my aunt like every woman wants to be treated.
And the last of my family to transition in that generation.
Uncle Frank, it makes me smile when I imagine the beautiful reunion you and Aunt Jo had on the other side.
Oh–and while I don’t expect to see you for some time, yet, go ahead and save me a seat at the breakfast table. We’ll have a lot to catch up on.