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14 October 2006 @ 11:15 am
Uncle Eddie  
Think of Rodney Dangerfield. Mix in a little Elmer Fudd. Healthy dose of Sophia Petrillo. A touch of Babe Ruth.

Hard to picture? Yep, so is my Uncle Eddie.

Except for a bit of a resemblance to Uncle Larry, my mom's little brother, you'd never peg him for a member of our family. He never meets a stranger--most of my family is so reserved we consider people we've known for years to be strangers. You can hear his voice clearly within a 2-block radius....my Mom is still kidded for the time when as a 5-year old at the family dinner table she yelled, "Will you please pass the potatos???" after having said it in her normal voice 4 times without anyone noticing.

Uncle Eddie is my grandfather's little brother. Pa, who was 19 years older than Eddie, was in the Navy when his only brother was born. Their dad was a deadbeat (my cousins and I are convinced he was a member of the New York mafia), and Pa was responsible, serious, and generous. He was Uncle Eddie's father figure, although there were very few years when they lived near each other.

When Eddie grew up he joined the Navy and stayed with them for his career. From time to time he'd show up in Florida for a holiday visit--when word would get around to the family that he was coming, we all had the same reaction. "Uncle Eddie's coming....brace yourself." All of us introverts would spend the next few days in a fog, mentally trying to keep up with Uncle Eddie's unceasing commentary on the Navy, New York, Bea (his wife), Florida weather, Southern food, Jewish food, football, travel, and anything else that crossed his mind.

He retired in Whidbey Island, WA, with Bea, and took up school bus driving. When Bea passed away, he stayed on in Washington, hanging out with his buddies from the Lions Club.

He came to visit us last Thanksgiving for the first time since Pa passed away in 1999. As I walked toward Granny's house Thanksgiving morning, I was taken aback by Uncle Eddie's voice coming through the screen door...it sounded just like Pa. Funny how you forget the familiar sound of someone's voice after a few years. Uncle Eddie took it upon himself over the next few days to wait on Granny hand and foot...and to berate the rest of us for not doing a good enough job caring for her. When my tire got a leak, he climbed into my passenger seat, directed me to Wal-Mart, and then harrassed the entire automotive department until the problem had been fixed. We went along with it all, knowing that his pestering and haranguing made him feel good...sort of his way of taking care of the family Pa left behind.
And it made us feel good, too--knowing Uncle Eddie loved us all, in his rough, unpolished sort of way. I think we all were reminded of how much we missed Pa and all of his quirky ways. It drew us together....he was crazy, Uncle Eddie was, but he was ours.

A few months after the Thanksgiving visit, Uncle Eddie was diagnosed with lung cancer. His treatments went well, and he made the decision to leave Washington when his doctors okayed it and travel south to be closer to family. He'd been living in an RV (think About Schmidt) and was planning to stop at state parks between Washington and Florida, staying up to 10 days at a time for free (since he's a vet), making it here for Thanksgiving.

A couple of weeks ago, we found out that the doctors found several spots on Uncle Eddie's brain. Uncle Eddie seems to have no concerns about making it through this--he knows he'll beat it. I hope he's right--I'm not ready to give him up yet. We want him here, with family, driving us all crazy, but now is not the time to travel. So we're praying for him, as we have for years--praying that his body will be healed, but praying mostly that he'll find the faith that the rest of our family has. My grandfather came to faith in his 40s and never stopped telling his little brother about the hope he had found--but Uncle Eddie was always too self sufficient, too good at making his own way in the world. Will things be different now that he's facing such an uphill climb? I hope so.

Mostly, I just thank God for giving my family someone like Uncle Eddie to test our boundaries a bit. To spice things up. And I pray that the Father will draw us all close to Him....that we'll rest in the palm of His hand and work out His will for our lives, glorifying Him and loving each other.