My Uncle Jack Casey passed away the other night. He was a great guy and I am sorry he's gone. He was 91 years old, and he lived every single one of them. He was still driving and and going to work right up until he suffered a stroke in December.
I come from a large Irish American family. Jack was one of seven kids. One died in infancy but the other 6 lived long busy lives producing 32 children between them. With his passing, my mother is the sole survivor of those siblings. That is hard to believe because each personality was so distinct and such a part of my life, I can't imagine they are all gone. What a reunion must be going on in heaven now!
Jack was the patriarch, the host of the family reunions, the teller of family stories and the keeper of family history. Many of us heard the stories multiple times, some only once or twice. Once you heard them, though, you didn't forget them. Thanks to Jack, my kids know about my great grand father Michael Casey as well as their own great grand father (my grandfather) John Casey and their contributions to San Francisco and to our family. That is a tremendous gift for which I am ever grateful.
Uncle Jack also had a great sense of humor. When I was a kid I was just a little bit darker skinned than all of my fair Irish cousins. There were several blonds, a few redheads and many brunettes. Even the brunettes had the fair Irish skin, though. Except me. I had dark hair, dark eyes and eyebrows, and skin of a more olive complexion. Because of this my Uncle Jack thought I looked Italian and always called me Angelina Baciagalupi.
And I always answered to it.
The other day my mom and I went to see him in the hospital. We knew from his kids that the end was near and wanted to visit. My mom was at his bedside and though he was weak and half asleep, it was clear that he recognized her and was happy to see her. I was next. I wondered if he would know who I was. (He was Uncle Jack to a LOT of people). As I leaned over to kiss him, I remembered what would set me apart and said,
"Hi Uncle Jack, it's me. Angelina Baciagalupi."
His face reacted immediately. My cousin Alice, his youngest daughter said," Well THAT brought a smile." Alice didn't know the reference because she is younger than me. The whole Angelina thing was done by the time I was about 10 and she was too young to remember. I pulled that out of the deepest recesses of my childhood memories. Besides, even if she was old enough to remember, I like to think that was something just between Jack and me.
It probably wasn't necessary. Uncle Jack knew exactly who was who and what was what until he drew his last breath. But getting that last smile from my Uncle Jack, a guy who was always smiling, made my day.
Godspeed Uncle Jack. Thanks for everything.
Nobody laughed harder at Jack's stories than Jack himself.
Jack's obituary in the SF Chronicle is here