My Uncle Bill was a wonderful guy. He had his quirks, no doubt, but we all do…or so I assume…otherwise it just runs in my family pretty deep! He was a Bostonian, having grown up and lived most of his life in Brookline, an immediate suburb of the great city. Short of a venture a few miles away to college (Boston College of course), a stint or two in the seminary (always to return home to help with family health issues) and the Korean War, he never lived far from the same neighborhood for most of his life, a neighborhood just up the street from the village center, the street cars, grocery stores, pubs and the Catholic Church. He was an avid Boston sports fan, liberal in his political beliefs and social values, and deeply religious, also from a liberal perspective. He was one of the first people I knew who believed women should be allowed to be priest in the Catholic Church, still far from reality.
My uncle was not a traveler of the world, or of the states for that matter. He did spend a bit of time in Arizona in his later years, having joined a seminary to pursue his religious calling that began in his younger adult life. But as before, family needs called and he returned to assist my grandmother in her aging. He was quick with a smile, loved a good joke, even at his own expense, and always made friends wherever he went. He loved people and the goodness of people, his manhattans and God. His laugh was infectious.
But for a guy who traveled little….he traveled quite a bit. Bill was a curious and inquisitive man and whenever we sat together the conversation would eventually turn to wherever I had been, what it was like where I was living, and a thousand questions about life there. My year spent sword fishing off the Atlantic Coast along the Georgia Banks, my winter in the Florida Keys fishing the Gulf of Mexico and the Bermuda Triangle, the cross-country road trip I embarked upon amidst a the howling snows of a Nor’easter, my years of graduate school in Michigan followed by my life in Southern California, it all intrigued him to no end and he reveled in the stories I would tell and the images he painted in his mind.
My uncle was a life-long bachelor and on my visits home we would always plan a dinner or two together in a restaurant or tavern to catch up on life and drink, spending hours at a table talking over a good meal, his manhattans, my beers or wine. At Christmas he would give me a bottle of wine from a distant country which he purchased from the local liquor store where I am sure he spent hours with the clerk learning the background of wines from the various countries, envisioning the romance of its origin. Wines from Italy, France, Spain, Chile, and Argentina were opened with curiosity, excitement and appreciation when I was home for the holiday season.
One of the more enjoyable events in Uncle Bill’s life was the discovery of Trader Joe’s grocery stores. Here he would walk the isles finding exotic foods from seemingly far away places, many of them frozen and ready for easy cooking (always on a bachelors mind). He would send Trader Joe’s gift certificates for birthdays or special occasions, always curious as to what was bought, how it tasted, what it was served with. He was in his element in that store making friends with all.
Proud of his Irish heritage and the knowledge that his ancestors immigrated to America by
way of Prince Edwards Island he was thrilled when my niece traveled to the northern region and brought back stories and pictures of the town, the church and the people our ancestors had lived with. Many of our visits and dinners were spent at local Irish taverns where he would flirt with the waitresses who all adored him.
Unfortunately, like me, Uncle Bill was slow to embrace the computer age and the wonders it provided, the worlds it placed at the finger tips. In fact he never owned a computer nor
probably used one for that matter. I remember in his last years his amazement when his neighbors offered to show him some of their travel pictures and they were all stored on a computer and brought up on the computer screen. You would have thought he had just discovered the newest planet in deep outer space he was so excited.
It’s unfortunate that Google Earth and Uncle Bill never crossed paths. The ability to travel the world and zoom in on the most distant and remote of places is amazing, the clarity excellent. I could just imagine Bill spending hours at a time, whole days traveling the world and discovering the joy of the lands his friends and acquaintances had traveled to or lived while never having to leave his apartment and manhattans.
Uncle Bill passed away a number of years ago after a long battle with cancer. He was a unique personality in our family, a special individual which many families are fortunate to have, and he’s missed, having left us with wonderful memories.
Uncle Bill was an enthusiastic traveler who knew a lot about a lot of places. He just never traveled anywhere. No problemo.
G’Day friends, see you next Friday morning.