The phone rang at 7:30am as I was trying to get ready for work. The first thought then went through my head was, "Who the hell is calling me at 7:30 in the morning." That was quickly replaced with the subsequent thought, "It's my parents calling me." The process was finalized with the last thought that crossed my mind, "If my parents are calling me at 7:30 in the morning, it has to be bad news."
My parents rarely call me, so I guess that's why it's easy to predict the kind of call. If a get a call in the evening, they're usually trying to finalize plans for some sort of family get-together or they've got a simple question to ask. If they call me in the morning before I go to work, it's usually to tell me that either someone is in the hospital or that someone died.
Today's message was to tell me that my Uncle Joe had passed away.
I hadn't seen much of my extended family ever since moving to Syracuse. Maybe just for the occasional family picnic, but that's about it. All of us cousins grew up and went on with our families and lives. The most contact I had with my Aunt Dottie and Uncle Joe over the past years were just the annual Christmas card. And yet, just the news that he had passed away immediately brought back every memory that I had of him followed by the sadness that he was gone.
My Aunt Dottie and Uncle Joe lived in Rochester. At least once a month my family would travel from York to "the city." It was a big excursion for us because it usually took at least 45 minutes to get there. (This was before the 390 expressway was built.)
Going to the city was exciting to me as a kid. We'd start out in the morning, do some shopping, eat at the Carrolls (the pre-McDonalds years), and then go to visit my aunt and uncle and nine cousins for the evening. Yes, you heard me right. Nine of them.
The two youngest cousins were approximately the same age as my brother and I. I was a year older than Joey and my brother was a year younger than Vinnie. We'd go over there and play games, celebrate holidays, have did (in the good Italian family style -- my Uncle Joe was Italian), or be an "air guitar band".
Joey, Vinnie, Matt and I loved the band KISS, so we'd put on an album and start playing right along. Joey would be Gene Simmons [The Demon]. Matt would be Paul Stanley [Starchild]. Vinnie would be Peter Criss [Catman]. And I was Ace Frehley [Space Ace]. (The main reason why I was Ace was because I was the only one of us who wore glasses. I had metal frames, and the color matched Ace Frehley's makeup.)
While we were playing with our cousins, my parents would be in the kitchen with my aunt and uncle. There was always laughter coming out of that room and the loudest voice was always Uncle Joe. I barely have any memories of him being anything but smiling and laughing. He was a very good-hearted soul, someone that you'd want to aspire to be. And he was very intelligent and knowledgeable on a number of subjects.
Then a few years ago, he was hit with Alzheimer's. The memories, the intelligence, the laughter were all slipping away slowly. I would get continuous updates from my mother about his condition. Eventually I got to see it first hand at a family picnic a couple of years ago. He could remember his immediate family, but for the most part he no longer remembered the rest of the relatives.
My aunt and uncle were able to celebrate their 50th anniversary around about the same year. Shortly after that, he had to be put into a home. My aunt had been wheelchair-bound for a number of years and one of her daughters (Mary) lived with them to help care for my uncle. It just finally got to be too much.
A few weeks ago, Uncle Joe fell into a coma. The prognosis was that he wasn't going to come out of it, but being the type of person he was he managed to make a recovery. Unfortunately, I think the family knew that his time was coming soon.
So here's to Joseph Cilano -- the big hearted Italian uncle, whom a kid couldn't help but love. Salud!