I remember the first time I met him. I was 10 years old. We had just come to shore after seven days on the Michelangelo from New York to Naples Italy. It felt so strange to be in this new place. Noisy, crowded, dirty … at least to me, through my eyes as a child. I felt lost. I stayed close to mom. Nothing would happen as long as I stayed close to her. My dad was feverishly looking for someone. I didn’t know who, but he took control as he always did. We dared not interfere. “Wait right here” and we did. And then we saw my dad with them … curious looking men … zio Umberto and zio Pepe`. Pepe` is short for Giuseppe in case you’re wondering. We grabbed our things and scurried along through the crowds.
I recall they tried to make me happy and win me over and bought me a small toy train. It worked … the rest of that trip was a blurr. But what I discovered over the next few weeks, months and years was my connection to my dear uncle, Zio Pepe` … what a sense of humor. He loved life. He had a wicked funny side. Always ready to go somewhere and take us all with him. Always there to smooth things over and calm everyone down.
I’ve always remembered him with silver hair and lots of it. His smile was contagious. And his plaid shirt. He seemed to love this one plaid shirt . You couldn’t help but notice his silver tooth right out front but it seemed to suit him. He could be goofy and was a lot of the time and could make everyone laugh especially when everyone was so serious. Italians can be very serious. He had charisma and was definitely charming. He was my first teacher in showing me how to be chivalrous. We always planned trips to Pianopoli, his home town. He was seen as the peacekeeper. If I was having a tough time with my dad, which seemed like almost every day back then, I’d call him or his sister, my zia Pina and they would smooth things out for me with my dad.
This one time when I was eighteen, my dad thought it best I return to Canada but I didn’t want to go because of a girl I met. It was a rough time for me back then, but there was zio Pepe` always assuring me things would be ok. I recall my uncle trying to smooth things out with my dad and the girls family … always negotiating … He did so much for me
Over the years as I would visit Italy we would always hang out, reminisce and laugh about some of the things we would remember. Some things others knew about and some things no one would ever find out. We trusted each other. We had mutual respect and that meant a lot to us both. Recently he started forgetting things. Progressively he forgot more and more. On one particular trip, he was in his space of not knowing … but then … just for a few seconds … in that brief moment he remembered where he was, who I was and we both just smiled because we instantly knew all we had shared through the years … and although he went back into that space of not knowing or remembering … I didn’t. We didn’t … None of us ever did. We remember for him.
Today I woke up to find messages from my sister that he passed away. And I am so heartbroken. I know he suffered so much over the past few years and this was a welcome outcome but it still hurts and its so sad. I love him, we all loved our dear Zio Pepe` He will be missed but we will always have the memories, the fun stories, the non stop – from the belly sort of laughs and memories because that’s how we all remember him and will never forget. Ciao Zio.