This afternoon, I headed down to the ancestral homestead in the beautiful Bronx to bid buon viaggio to my Uncle Richard, who will be flying down to Florida tomorrow to take up residence. He and his wife sold their house in Port Chester, New York- the moving van packed them up last Wednesday, and my aunt drove down with a friend and the family dogs while my uncle stuck around for the closing, which happened today, staying with my aunt who serves as materfamilias and holds court in the ancestral home, a house built by my great-grandfather and his friends in the building trades, who pooled their labor and built each others' homes.
The best descriptor for my Uncle Richard is 'Runyonesque'... he was always a larger than life character, hearty and boisterous. In many ways, he has always lived as he did while in high school, a member of both the varsity football team and the theater club. You just know when the man enters the room, and you know it's going to be a blast.
While I was still in high school, he got me a part-time job on Saturdays, and we had a morning ritual- I would meet him at the family homestead, we'd travel down to Manhattan where we'd work, then he'd bring me along to his day job, working as a project manager for a large construction project in lower Manhattan... I'd accompany him on his afternoon inspection tour, and then we'd wend our way north, stopping at Morrone and Sons bakery on 116th St in East Harlem to pick up a pane di casa and some other bread before returning to the Bronx. The proprietress would invariably ask Richard when he was going to marry her daughter, would refer to me as Richard's bodyguard, and we'd have a great laugh before returning to dear old Pelham Bay for a late lunch. When we arrived, my genius grandfather and a neighbor with Down syndrome would be sitting in the front parlor, listening to opera on WQXR and occasionally bickering like an old married couple. After all this, I'd head home, having received an education on many levels.
Uncle Richard, like most men of his age, wouldn't exactly be considered politically correct, but he's one of those men who can pull it off without being an asshole. While he might occasionally make an off-color joke, he's the sort of man who would, and did, jump through hoops to ensure that our friend Suzi, a lesbian immigrant from Argentina, would be able to adopt a child of drug addicted parents who was destined to languish in the foster care system. Richard used his considerable Rolodex to find attorneys, with the help of a formidable activist cousin of mine, who could push back against a hidebound system and make sure that the baby would have a loving home with a parent that the system would not necessarily have favored, and that baby will be going to a prestigious public high school (one of the ones that has a demanding application process) in the fall. That's Richard, he might tell a salty tale, but when it comes to helping a friend, color, creed, gender, and sexual identity are of no concern. For the record, Suzi is paying her respects tomorrow, lunchtime, before Richard travels to the airport.
The move was largely precipitated by my aunt, Richard's wife. Her siblings live down in the area, as do her nieces and nephews. Richard has a bunch of friends within a twenty-mile radius, including an old college buddy. They are moving into a ranch house with a decent yard, with no snow to shovel. Sure, Richard knows that Florida is full of nuts, but he's prepared. He's an old Bronx boy, with the sort of savvy that is second to none. He'll be back on a fairly regular basis, I'm sure. You just can't get good bread in Florida, not like you can in East Harlem... or Port Chester, for that matter.