Published June 17, 2004
Father’s Day is fast approaching. And I am turning over in my heart memories of the men in my childhood, who gave me my earliest impressions of the Father we all share. The one who “art in heaven.”
My dad, of course, topped the list. He was the son of Sicilian immigrants and the photos show a handsome man wearing a fine fedora hat and standing in front of a 1950 Chrysler that he had christened Annabelle.
In the early years before I had learned to read, I recall sitting on my dad’s lap while he read me the Sunday comics, and feeling awed over the mystery of the brightly colored patches that somehow had stories imbedded in them.
As I grew up, our relationship became rather rocky. Although I loved him, I sometimes felt my dad was too busy for me. He wasn’t like other fathers who took kids camping or taught them a sport.
In my teen years, my dad often drove me crazy. He would study a new dress that I was parading around in and then, instead of doling out a compliment, would ask, in all seriousness, “Is it comfortable?”
And when the family climbed into the car for a summer road trip, my dad made sure no one dawdled over breakfast so we could accomplish something that every man I’ve ever known can relate to, which is “making good time.”
Even if my dad was somewhat standoffish at times, I was fortunate to be blessed with a wondrous assortment of affectionate uncles.
My favorite was the dark-eyed Italian Johnny Rosasco, who married my Mom’s sister Rita.
One of my earliest and most vivid memories is Uncle Johnny showing me how to wield a teaspoon to dig out the plump sweet berries from a jar of preserves.
It wasn’t so much the strawberries that made me love him, but the fact that he thought I was special enough to teach me something other kids didn’t know how to do.
I also think Uncle Johnny liked seeing a little girl’s face light up. Which was a minor miracle in my case, as I was a serious child who would peer with great longing through the bars of my playpen in the front yard.
According to family legend, when neighbors approached to remark on my cuteness, I would glare at them—and then utter my favorite word, which was “Dope!”
Sadly, my beloved Uncle Johnny died in his thirties of a heart attack, leaving behind my Aunt Rita and two small children, my cousins Julie and John. And to this day, whenever we all get together and I relate the tale of the strawberries, all the Rosasco faces brighten.
My mom had three brothers, but the only one I met was Savy Bibbo, a heavy-set, bear-like man. He and his wife Lillian had no children of their own, which may partly explain why he so generously showered love on his nieces and nephews.
Uncle Savy loved a good joke and was good at coming up with nicknames that pinned down people’s basic traits. It didn’t take him long to come up with the perfect title for me, which was, alas, “Me Too.”
You see, my most fervent desire was to imitate my big sister’s every movement and whim, and this meant demanding the same toys and the same flavor of ice cream.
Uncle Savy loved vacationing in Miami Beach and would thrill to treat his sisters and their children, including “Me Too,” to a huge feast at a fancy hotel called the Fountain Bleau.
Then, despite everyone’s protests that they couldn’t possibly consume another bite, we would follow him to the Ye Noshery ice cream parlor, where the gargantuan sundaes gave me a taste of what heaven must be like.
Although Uncle Savy died when I was well into my thirties, there are still times when I pick up the phone and expect to hear that familiar voice booming, “Hey, Me Too!”
August was another Italian uncle who taught me stuff I have never forgotten. Although we shared not a drop of blood in common, he was family to me and I loved him dearly.
He and his wife, Madeline, my mom’s best friend, lived in a sprawling house with a thriving garden in Yonkers, N.Y. Whenever I visited, I liked nothing more than studying their multiple birdfeeders, which looked like miniature apartment buildings hanging from trees.
Uncle August explained how robins hopping across the lawn were using their feet to feel for vibrations made by worms. This piece of information intrigued me so much that, to this day, whenever I spot a robin, I think of him.
He also introduced me to my first outdoors pet. He encouraged me to stand patiently at the foot of a tree with a peanut in my hands and call for the resident chipmunk, whose name, of course, was Chippie.
When the furry little guy would scurry down, gently take a snack from my hand and then vamoose back to his hiding place, I was beside myself with joy.
My dad’s brother died before I was born, but I do remember the man who married my Aunt Mary, my dad’s sister. His name was Paul Sosa, and he was a Spanish man who worked as a chef on various cruise boats.
Whenever Uncle Paul was home, he loved heading into the kitchen to conjure up a huge pot of fragrant paella, filled with generous amounts of shrimp and chicken, and laced with saffron.
Gathered around the table at these feasts would be his wife and their five children, along with my Mom and Dad, my sister and me. As Aunt Mary’s kids grew up, they added more chairs around the table, so the next generation could also chow down on Uncle Paul’s remarkable cuisine.
When I look at the man I married, I glimpse traits of the men from my early life.
In a way reminiscent of my dad, my husband sometimes forgets to compliment me when I have donned a new dress or tried a new hair-do. Still, like Uncle Johnny, my husband generously gives me the gift of his time.
He has dutifully planted flowers that I love in the garden and has built numerous cages for the many Chippie-like rodents I’ve adopted as pets (to date, squirrels, rabbits, gerbils and hamsters).
And like Uncle Paul, my husband is a splendid cook who never tires of heading into the kitchen to turn out fine delicacies.
This Father’s Day, I will say a prayer of thanksgiving for all these men who have showed me different glimpses of my heavenly Father’s face.
It is true that I often worry that God may be too busy for me, but deep in my heart, especially when I think of strawberries, robins and paella—or a voice on the phone saying, “Hey, Me Too!”—there is one thing I know for sure. My Father loves me.
Lorraine V. Murray writes a column every other Saturday in the Faith and Values section of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She is the author of two books—a collection of essays called “Grace Notes” (Catholic Book Publishing/Resurrection Press) and a book for women with cancer called “Why Me? Why Now?” (Ave Maria Press). She lives in Decatur with her husband, Jef, and two gerbils, a hamster and a cat. You may e-mail her at email@example.com.