December 5, 2019

Terrible Chianti and Politics

I wouldn’t be me without him, and we wouldn’t be us. My Uncle Angelo has left this world and though I am thankful he’s no longer suffering the effects of the beast that is Alzheimer’s, I feel that we are collectively less without him.

Throughout my childhood my Nonna stood flanked by her two brothers, one on each side. Literally. One as conservative as the other was liberal. Both with hearts of a lion. They put each other through college. Spent the better part of every antipasta arguing over who got the better deal on the truly terrible straw covered jug of Chianti. They were a living lesson in values- nothing, not politics, not religion, not bad taste in wine, nothing stood above coming together as a family and accepting each other if only for the duration of the pasta course. Uncle Angelo and Uncle Danny were our pillars.

I’ve been thinking we set too much store in labels. Why is it that “great uncle” seems akin to “distant relative of little importance”? And “second cousin” what IS that? My daughter has several second cousins who would be better described as aunts. And great aunts who really should be labeled awesome aunts. My “Great Uncle” Angelo shaped me as much as any grandfather. Not one, but two great uncles made me understand my value, even in those awkward, angst filled teenage years, they made it clear- my thoughts and opinions mattered. It was my Uncle Angelo who raced to my mom’s rescue as quick as any father, who opened his home to her and six became seven...with only one bathroom! Without Uncle Angelo the world would appreciate Bob Dylan just a little bit less and I probably wouldn’t own THREE copies of Machiavelli’s The Prince. And (most importantly) if not for my Uncle Angelo I *might* very well have turned out to be a republican (I was well on my way at 17 and very taken with some catholic Texan boys with exceptional charm and conservative ideals).

We want more time, we ache for it. But since more time will never, ever be enough we have no choice but to let our memories propel us forward. And how rich we are in those memories.

Uncle Angelo is present when I patiently listen to my six year old’s opinion on world events. Or when my brother pushes my argumentative buttons over dinner. He has shaped me just as surely as the books I have read and the food I have cooked. My aunt suggested that this Christmas we find a protest to attend in his honor. The odds of us all being on the same side of any protest are slim to none but I have a feeling this would delight my uncle all the more.

Our pillars are gone, but the foundation they laid, one terrible jug of Chianti at a time remains, I think in tact. And at the very least, I am told by Nonna that when she took over the Christmas meal and was faced with the choice of choosing spiedini from her husband’s Sicilian side over the fried veal from her Southern Italian side, it was Uncle Angelo who insisted she make both. And for that we will be forever thankful.

You have left us in peace my sweet Uncle. Until next we meet.