A Final Middle Finger


I’ve been thinking a lot about adversity and resilience lately, both in a general sense and due to events going on in the lives of my students, friends, and extended family (as well as my own). There’s a lot to say about these things from a theoretical perspective, but that does not fit here. Instead, this one is personal, about my Uncle Jimmy.

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A dear uncle of mine passed away recently. He was a great guy – a jokester and a ballbuster, but also a generous and kind soul, a good father and husband. As a prank, he once clandestinely paged a coworker every day for years, just for fun, to watch him glance down at his pager in confusion. (I don’t think he ever discovered who was behind it).  When I was a boy, he was my Little League coach. As an adult, when I returned home from graduate school in order to be closer to family while I wrote my dissertation, he and my aunt asked their upstairs tenants not to renew their lease so that my wife and I could have their apartment (with rent at a family rate discount). “Blood is thicker than water,” he said.

There were always parties at that house, filled with extended family, friends, and neighbors. Some were for holidays, like Christmas Eve and Easter, while others were for no reason at all. Garbage collectors, seeing the amount of beer cans in the recycling bins every few weeks, once asked him who lived in the house. “I do,” my uncle answered, who was 50-something at the time. “Oh,” they said. “We thought it was a fraternity.”

In that apartment, we watched Red Sox games together along with my brother, father, and cousins, including the playoffs in 2003 (which didn’t end well), and 2004 and 2007 (which did). Along with most New Englanders of his generation, he had waited his whole life to see the Red Sox win, and when it finally happened he broke out the bottle of scotch he had been saving, and we all took photos in front of the television with huge smiles on our faces (from the victory, not the scotch). In October 2008, we made a road trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown to see the Red Sox championship exhibit before it was taken down after the next champion came along. We laughed most of the drive there and back again.

The size of his funeral was a testament to his character, and I can’t imagine anybody not having something good to say about him. He had an array of health problems in the latter years of his life, and was clearly in a lot of physical pain, but he was stoic and never complained. How did he do it, I wonder? In the last few days of his life, visitors poured in from all over to see him in the hospital, since we knew he probably didn’t have much time left. He was medicated and semi-conscious, intubated and unable to speak, but when a cousin teased him and told him to suck it up and get out of bed, he responded with an appropriate middle finger. A fighter and a jokester until the end. He will be missed. 

Uncle Jimmy (center), after Game 7 of the Red Sox- Yankees AL Championship (Oct 20, 2004).

2 thoughts on “A Final Middle Finger

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