Uh-Oh! SpaghettiOs

I sit in this little room. It is familiar. I can see the water, and it’s beautiful. I wish I could see this sight in times of joy.

I have a perspective of the city that I only have in times of despair. I see three church steeples, and the highway. In the distance, I can see the bright sign at Stew Leonards. I can’t see what is on sale, but I know something is. Probably Chicken.

Placed in my hand is my Uncle’s hand. His hand is swollen and bruised with some lines going in. His grip is strong. It’s a strength that is in disparity to the rest of what I see. Before me lies a man I have known since my birth. He is dying. He now weighs less than my dog. But on he fights.

His name is Padraic, Gaelic for Patrick. Padraic Gannon. It is pronounced Pour-igg. To me, he is Uncle Poo.

My sister and I joke that my uncle cannot be killed, but we were wrong.

I’ve been in this place before, with my mother. His sister. Looking out the window, the view is the same, the steeples, the highway, the chicken on sale. Then too, I held a hand which is slipping from my grasp.  I am at the Hospital.

Uncle Poo is unique. He grew up in Ireland, and he is one of six children, the oldest boy. His mother died of cancer when he was not quite nine. Six kids, the oldest was ten, left motherless.

After my grandmother died, the kids were wild. Their father worked and there was little supervision. “Here come the Gannon boys” the neighbors would say with a shudder.

My mother used to say that Uncle Poo’s real mother came up from South America and dropped him off in Ireland. This was not to disparage South Americans, but to say that Uncle Poo was VERY different than the rest of the family.

Different isn’t bad, it’s just different.

Of Uncle Poo, my mother said “There is nothing thicker than an Irishman, and he is the THICKEST.” Oh, and stubborn too.

Uncle Poo began smoking cigarettes at 10, a habit that would continue until he was 70, when he learned he had emphysema.

Oddly, seeing two of his sisters and a brother pass from lung related illnesses did nothing to make him want to quit.

I mentioned  he was THICK, right?

Thirteen years ago, he burned down his house while smoking. That did not make him want to quit either.

Yep. THICK.

When the fire fighters pulled him from the burning house, they thought he was dead. They even pull the sheet up over his head on the gurney. Clearly, they had no idea how stubborn he could be.

The day Uncle Poo decided to quit smoking, he put the cigarettes down and never touched them again. It was that easy. This left us shaking our heads. Although, that was generally what one was left doing after a conversation or interaction with Uncle Poo.

I don’t have an “earliest memory” of my Uncle Poo, because, since the day I was born,  he was just always there. And he usually brought doughnuts. My Uncle Poo would come over every Sunday to visit and would, seemingly, stay forever.

When I was a kid, Uncle Poo was great fun to have around. He would walk around the house with either my sister or me on his shoulders. When we would come to a doorway, he would always says the same thing “Watch your block.” This was his cue for you to duck so you didn’t hit your head.

As children he tortured us. He called it teasing, we called it torture.

He told us if we planted a feather, a bird would grow.
He told us to go look for invisible quarters.
He told us to go out in the yard and to dig to China.

It wasn’t all teasing, Uncle Poo had pearls of wisdom:

“The white cows give the white milk and the brown cows give the chocolate.”

“Did you hear about the man with the one eye called Casey? What was his other eye called?”

We guessed. And guessed. And guessed. But Uncle Poo never gave us the answer. Little did we know, his eyes didn’t have names, it was a joke about punctuation.

He liked to badger us with “Uh oh! Uh oh! Uh oh…” When asked what was wrong, he responded “SpaghettiO’s.” And then he would crack himself up.

This was nothing new. Uncle Poo tortured his siblings, long before he was called “Poo.”

Once my mother left Ireland for the United States, my Uncle ruled the roost. My Uncle Joe, Poo’s brother, told me this funny story. In his teens, Uncle Poo had a carpentry job. One day he came home from work with a cake. His four younger siblings gathered around him, sitting at his feet. Uncle Poo unwrapped the cake and cut it into 5 pieces. The kids thought “Great! One for him and one for each of us.” Not so fast… Uncle Poo proceeded to eat all 5 pieces of cake while his siblings sat there drooling.

There are so many funny stories about my Uncle Poo, but this one might be my favorite. Growing up, we had a large freezer in our basement. In it was stored items bought on sale, or things we would eat at a later date. One day, my mother handed Uncle Poo two half-gallons of ice cream, and asked him to “take them downstairs to the freezer.” No problem, my Uncle took the two containers, went downstairs and came back a few minutes later to his cup of tea.

Two days later, my mother went to the basement to retrieve something, and she found the two half-gallons of ice cream sitting outside the freezer… melted.

She got on the telephone to Uncle Poo, explained her findings and asked what the heck happened?!!?

“What do you mean?” Uncle Poo said incredulously “You asked me to take the ice cream down to the freezer.” The error was my mother’s. She never told him to put the ice cream INTO the freezer.

I said he was THICK. I think this was around the time when my mother started referring to him (to my father) as “your brother-in-law.”

As a kid, my Uncle loved to take us to Carnivals. The kind at the church parking lot- with the rides that were, in all likelihood, death traps. There was an instance where Uncle Poo “wandered off.” My sister, Patti, and I knew we needed to track him down, so we decided to go to the booth where they made announcements.

We knocked on the door to the booth and a dude came out and asked what we wanted? We explained that we needed to have our lost Uncle paged. Even at our young ages, we knew that “Uncle Poo” was not a name that should be announced over a PA system, so we decided to have him paged by his proper name. “Padraic Gannon.”

“Please page Padraic Gannon.”

“What?”

“Please page Padraic Gannon.”

“What?”

“Please page Padraic Gannon. POUR-IGGG GANNON.”

“You want to page ‘PORK Gannon?  As in PORK CHOP?!?!”

Patti and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and said “Close enough.”

“WOULD PORK GANNON PLEASE COME TO THE ANNOUNCERS BOOTH???”

He did and we were reunited.

Despite all of these silly antics, stories and torturous idiosyncrasies, if you needed ANYTHING, Uncle Poo was always there. I have known, in my heart, Uncle Poo would do anything for me.

He was always so strong, and a ridiculously hard worker. He was like an ant, he could life 50 times his body weight. He guarded his food like you were going to take it from him. He wasn’t one for flowery talk, but he took care of his family and always did the best he could. Although, he never told me he loved me, it was evident by his actions.

Last month, at the beginning of this ordeal, I was called to my Uncle’s house to try to help him get out of the car. He had just been diagnosed with bone cancer and he was unable to walk. He was in a tremendous amount of pain. His wife, Marcia, had gone to pick up some pain medication at the pharmacy and I sat with him on his front porch.

We sat there in the sunshine and talked.  He was very thin and frail. I had never seen him like this before. I leaned over to him and I said “You know I love you, right?” He stared straight ahead and nodded once. I nudged him and said “While we are waiting, do you want to look for some invisible quarters?” A tiny smirk came across his face.  Shortly thereafter, Marcia came back with the medicine and he took it and went inside to bed.

But I knew we had shared a moment. A moment I will never forget.

Over the past few weeks, I have watched Uncle Poo decline. He has grown thinner and progressively less responsive. But he remained stubborn. He ripped out his IV more than once, and continually tried to remove his oxygen mask. The nurses called him a pain in the ass, and, frankly, I couldn’t argue with them.

At the hospital one evening, I sat in the ICU holding Uncle Poo’s hand. Although he was weak, his grip was strong.

A nurse came in to discuss some things with my Aunt and cousin, they huddled in the corner talking. I leaned in and I said “Uncle Poo, you know Patti and I love you very much, right? You have been the best Uncle anyone could ever ask for. “

From under his oxygen mask, he whispered “I love you, too.”

It was the first time.
It was the last time.
It meant everything to me.

Last night I said a prayer. It was a prayer similar to the one I said before my mother died. “Please God, if he is ready to go, please take him. God, if you think you can handle him, please take him. Allow him to go in peace to be with his siblings and his parents. Please do not make him to suffer any longer.”

An hour later, Uncle Poo was gone and is now at peace.

May you always have work for your hands to do.
May your pockets hold always a coin or two.
May the sun shine bright on your window pane.
May the rainbow be certain to follow each rain.
May the hand of a friend always be near you.
And may God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.

Slainte, Uncle Poo

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