My uncle came to town this past weekend. He came to visit my mom, his sister. The last time they saw each other was about 10 years ago when my sister and I bought her a ticket to Florida, where he lives, as a Christmas present. When she was diagnosed with cancer in November one of the first things she said was that she wanted was to see her brother again.
I hadn’t seen Uncle Mike in almost 20 years but when we looked down the long walkway in the airport at the people who were coming off the plane, you couldn’t miss him. There he was, unmistakeable, Uncle Mike.
You have to set your mind to the dial of New York Italians so that everything you hear is through that filter. The accent, the gruff raspy sound of the voice, the shoulder shrug that accompanies most of the conversation. It was pure heaven. There’s just something about it that makes me smile. I wish I could go back in time and be there for just one of the family dinners that I’ve heard so much about. First, the food! The FOOD!!! I hear all about how amazing and wonderful the food was that my Nana would cook. Never tasting anything herself, pasta for every meal either as a main dish or a side dish and fighting to have anything you said heard because everyone is talking over everyone!!! I would be so right at home.
Stories were something I was looking forward to with this visit and I wasn’t disappointed. I was educated as to where the phrase “Close but no cigar” came from from from my uncle, who was witness to the days of it’s birth. He said you could walk down through Coney Island and hear the bell being rung by a not so large man swinging a large mallet. What would he win for such a display of strength? You guessed it, a cigar. Then the much larger man who was walking by would pay his money and take his shot at ringing the bell. Down went the mallet and up went the bell but unfortunately, no ringing was heard as the weight made it about half way up only to fall back down and cause confusion and disappointment to the sucker that gave it a shot. (I use the word sucker in the New York sense again with that gruff voice and shoulder shrug that I mentioned earlier!) And, what do you think the man would yell out at this very moment in time?? “Close! But NO cigar!”
There were more stories and I wish I could share them all. Stories of Tony Bennet who Uncle Mike would hang out with occasionally because he ran in a circle of shared friends. Stories of days gone by and times that no longer exist but are as real as today when you hear them.
We had a wonderful time and I’m so glad that he came. My mother and he took a drive through Sonoma and had lunch in the square. Brother and sister on an adventure for the afternoon. We toured around San Francisco on his last day. Taking in the sighs of the city. We went to the wharf and ate fresh crab sandwiches and headed over to China town for dinner. We ate at the BEST restaurant that I can’t wait to have an excuse to go back to. R and G Lounge. AMAZING food. The salt and pepper prawns were the hands down favorite and Uncle Mike said the Won Ton soup, which wasn’t on the menu, was the best he had ever had. Watching the surfers near Fort Point was the perfect end to a perfect day.
He left the next day. My mom and the boys and I drove him to the airport. It was a teary farewell for my mom and I wished that the world wasn’t as big as it is. That even though we’re so close to each other these days with the internet, that physically we could be closer more often. That we could have those big family dinners. That the boys would experience life with a large family and that my mom could see her brother more than once a decade.
Uncle Mike, we love you tons. Mason and Miles are still talking about you. We hope to see you again. And until then, here are the favorite shots from the visit.