There is a difference between Uncle Fred, and just some other uncle. I've had Uncles that I saw once a year, maybe on a Holiday. I've had Uncles that I saw every 10 years or so, location usually played a big part in why that was.
Have you ever had an Aunt or Uncle that you actually considered immediate family? An Aunt and an Uncle that you saw almost every day for a large part of your life? Aunt Jane and Uncle Fred were like that to my family. The fact that they lived within walking distance from my house for the 26 years I lived at home I'm sure played a big part.
Here's an example. From 1st to 8th grade I walked every day to school. We lived about 3 suburban blocks from my Catholic grade school so it wasn't a very taxing journey. Aunt Jane and Uncle Fred lived 1 block from the school, so guess where I ate lunch everyday? You guessed it, at their kitchen table. It's safe to say they fed me lunch during the school year, for 8 years, about 90% of the time. When that happens, you tend to form a very strong relationship.
Unfortunately for everyone who knew him, my Uncle Fred passed away unexpectedly on the same day as Farrah and the "King of Pop". I'm pretty sure he wouldn't be happy with that coincidence.
I've tried to write this post a few times the last day or so, but its too difficult to sum up in a few paragraphs the impact Uncle Fred had on me, especially as a youngster. My mind jumps from thought to thought of different things that I remember about him over the years. Maybe bullet points would be best, snapshots of a really great guy.
- Laughter. When I think of Uncle Fred, I picture him laughing, because, well, he was always laughing. When he would see me after a long period, he would just shake my hand and laugh. He did that to everyone. How great is that?
- Hours of playing baseball in his back yard. His son Drew and I, were joined at the hip when we were young, and we would be the recipients of Uncle Fred hitting us balls as we practiced our fielding.
- Sitting in his den on Friday nights watching "Big 5" basketball on TV. He would have a running commentary going about the game we were watching.
- Vacations at the beach in the summer of which I was always included. After dinner we would head to the empty beach, set up a makeshift baseball diamond and my cousins and I would play for hours with Uncle Fred as he laughed and laughed everytime some one made a play.
- He was the ultimate competitor and a great athlete. On the basketball court he was talented, smart and as tough as they came. You didn't want to "drive the paint" if he was there defending. There were never any easy baskets. When I was growing up playing in various basketball leagues, after a game he wouldn't ask me how many points I had, he'd ask me how many fouls I had. He figured if you didn't have 3 or 4 fouls called on you, you weren't playing hard enough. He was right.
- You could walk in Uncle Fred's house on any given day and see him parked in front of TV watching some sort of sporting event. He'd look up, laugh, greet me warmly and tell me to grab a beer. He always had some new beer to try. My daughter Bryn jokes with me that I never have anything but "high end" beer in the house. I like to think I got that from Uncle Fred.
- As they got older, hardly a weekend would go by without my mom and Dad and Aunt Jane and Uncle Fred getting together for a night out to dinner or a cookout in the back yard. This went on for years. He was just part of the family.
He was truly a great friend to my parents. No one ever said a bad thing about him, just a great guy.
I was traveling back to work the day after he passed away, and the fellow crew members I was traveling with brought up the fact of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawset passing away the same day the day before. I said, not only did they die, but my Uncle passed away that same day.
They looked at me, said something like, "that's a shame your Uncle died," like it was some distant relative I never saw. I wanted to shout, "you don't understand, this isn't just some Uncle, this is Uncle Fred. He was a part of our family."
But I said nothing. They wouldn't understand.