Saluting my Uncle Don

Uncle Donnie helped paint my bedroom before I was born. His wife, Ruth, and my mother were as close as two sisters can be and Don was a part of my life. They married before my mother and had two children before I arrived, but it felt as if we were growing up together. As was the habit, the two families left the boroughs and headed for Long Island. With pride the two houses were exactly eight miles apart door to door, meaning we’d see one other with regularity.

As I grew up, Don would take us on his motorboat for a day of fishing. On the way back home, we’d stop for Dairy Queen, warned not to drip ice cream on his precious car. He was the first car fiend I knew and he was successful enough in work to change cars every few years, preferring diesel engines.

In time, he would hire me to come help him prepare the boat each spring. My pay was a fat roast beef deli sandwich, some chips and a soda. I don’t recall if we ever spoke that much or what we talked about, but it was companionable time together.

Later on, when I had my first college girlfriend, he cracked a joke that acknowledged he was accepting me as an adult, something I truly appreciated. He also helped me buy my first car for which I remain grateful.

As I entered the publishing field, he’d often inquire about the mechanics behind the comics given his role in a company that manufactured prints for businesses, hotels, and the like. It was a family business he entered after marrying Aunt Ruth and rose quickly through his hard work but blood won out, eventually forcing him from the only real job he knew.

Having grown up in Bridgeport, he knew plenty about Fairfield so gave us recommendations when we moved up and it turned out he knew people we had come to know while a niece of his wound up a classmate of Kate and Robbie’s.

Our time together was never long but frequent enough to be friendly and supportive. He didn’t ask much of the world. Time to fish and play cards, read, and see friends. An avid Giants fan, I knew not to call on Sundays during the games and our last conversation was on Super Bowl Sunday and he was looking forward to the game.

Don’s life as an active senior grew complicated from various illnesses and this past year proved exceedingly difficult for him. He grew frailer and more tired until finally he began a series of hospital visits and while there, had a heart attack that began his decline. He wasn’t ready to go quite yet, surviving that but moving into hospice care where he hung on for one final week, a final chance to talk to Ruth and his daughter Ellen, my mom, Uncle Eric, and Aunt Myra.

He finally passed this morning and for the last few weeks he has weighed heavily on my mind. He endured much personally and professionally but wasn’t one to complain. He was there for the family and reveled in all of our accomplishments – an ideal uncle in that regard. Family gatherings will be a little less relaxed with his absence but his spirit will remain with us all.

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