Thursday, August 28, 2014

Uncle John

My Cousin Suzie posted a photo of her Dad (my Uncle John) and her son Jesse watching the Little League World Series on TV together. It reminded me of all the times Uncle John (my favorite uncle) and I watched baseball games (probably the Yankees) together on TV when I would visit New Jersey in the summers after we moved to Florida. He and I would talk baseball but mostly just sit quietly and watch. He was a great athlete in his younger days with a chance to play professionally had he chosen that path. He knew baseball and imparted much knowledge about the game to me. I still carry that knowledge with me today. Uncle John took me to my first major league game. It was 1961 at Yankee Stadium. We drove to the Bronx from New Jersey, parked on a street near the stadium and walked to the "House That Ruth Built".  In 1961 I was playing school and Little League ball. I was sure I would be playing in the Bigs in a few years. I was a Willie Mays fan, but I appreciated the NY Yankees roster. 1961 is the year Roger Maris hit 61 home runs and Mickey Mantle hit 54. The M&M boys were part of a team which many have called the greatest team ever. My Uncle John took me to see that team play. He also bought me a baseball at the gift shop that was autographed by that team. It is not the actual signatures, they are printed or facsimile signatures but who cares. I still have that ball. Some of the signatures are Mantle, Maris, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Clete Boyer and many other stars. The ball is a family treasure.

But I digress. This is about Uncle John. He is not a blood uncle. He is my Aunt Anne's husband and my Mom's brother-in-law. He joined the Kelly family shortly after I came along. He and I immediately had a bond since we share a birthday. I remember having two birthday cakes at family gatherings. Looking back, I fear Uncle John got the short end of those joint celebrations. Unfortunately for him, I was the cute kid at the table. 

Let me tell you what I know about Uncle John. He was an outstanding athlete in school. He played baseball, football, soccer and any other sports they had plus a few they probably didn't. He is a WWII veteran with a Purple Heart. He continued serving society by becoming a police officer. I remember him going to and coming in from watch at all hours. I remember how impressive he looked in his police uniform. I remember his gun that he took off as soon as he was home. I remember watching ballgames in the front TV room with him. After several years on the police force, he transferred to the fire department. The hours and shifts were a little more stable but the job was no less dangerous or important.

So, you want to equal Uncle John's service to society? All you have to do is go overseas during your youth, fight the Axis powers and get wounded. Then, spend several years as a police officer. Not finished yet, now go fight fires, rescue folks and breathe toxic fumes until retirement age. At the same time how about raising two great kids and inspiring your daughter to be an ER nurse and your son to be a policeman who ultimately became a police chief. 

During all this exposure to war, criminals and destruction, Uncle John remained a gentle man and a gentleman. I haven't seen him in several years. He's in Florida and I'm in Texas.

I doubt I ever told Uncle John that I loved him. Guys didn't exchange those words back then. Well, I did and I do love him. I wish we had more time together and I wish I had more appreciated the times we did have together. I never remember having a disagreement or harsh words with him.  

Before my Aunt Anne comes and smacks me, I know you had a big hand in all this. I love you too, always have despite our sometimes differences. Yes, I was often a little shit, probably still am. 

In conclusion, Uncle John is one of our Greatest Generation. He did his job, whatever it was, the best he could. He is a hero. Not just for a few days, weeks or  months but for an entire lifetime.

I miss those times on William St. when we watched Mickey, Yogi, Whitey and Roger on TV together or played catch in the back yard or tennis at the courts up the street. 

Glad you were in our lives. We are all better for it.


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