When I was a kid in elementary school, we used to sing a song in music class that went
“Did you ever got to meetin’, Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe?
Did you ever go to meetin’, Uncle Joe?”
I had no idea what the song was talking about (and still don’t) but I liked to sing it because it was an upbeat song and it made me think of my Uncle Joe.
Every time I saw Joe, he was laughing. He loved to laugh and so, of course, he fit right in with our family. He always greeted me the same way, with a happy, enthusiastic, “Heyyyy, Eddie!” and a big hug. And then he would tell me a joke.
Uncle Joe always had a joke to tell. If there were four things he loved in life, they were his family, Notre Dame, fishing (and collecting antique fishing lures), and jokes. I remember the first time I came back to visit him after I had gone away to college. He took me aside and said, “I bet there are a lot of good parties at college, huh?”
I laughed and said that there were.
And then, as if I were the holder of precious secrets, he asked me in a hushed tone, “Did you hear any good jokes at any of ’em?”
I smiled and told Uncle Joe a couple of jokes I had heard and he swapped them for a few of his own. They were groaners – they always were – but we both knew they were, so it made them funnier.
Joe had a big heart and was always the first in line to help someone who needed a hand. When my grandmother fell ill, he and his wife Sue really took the lead on making sure she had everything she needed. He stepped up and treated her like his own mother and I know it meant a lot to her. It meant a lot to me, too.
Uncle Joe had fallen ill not long ago and his health descended quickly. This morning I got The Call from my brother Ray that Joe had passed on.
Sarah and I are going home to Indiana next week and I was looking forward to getting the chance to see him, Sue, and their son Joe. I wanted to give him a hug and tell him a joke. I hate that I won’t be able to. I hate that sometimes good people go so soon (too soon) and I hate the pain Sue and his son have to feel and I hate having to describe Uncle Joe in the past tense.
But I love who Uncle Joe was.
I love how much he loved to laugh and I love how angry the Fighting Irish made him when they played poorly and I loved it when he would mutter things to me at family reunions that he probably shouldn’t say about others but were funny because they were true. I love that he knew how much I enjoyed humor and that he always tried to make me laugh. I love how much he cared for others and that his heart was just as his big as his passion for life.
And I love that when I see him again, I know he’ll have a cooler by the door with a cold one waiting for me and he’ll have scoped out the best place in the Great Beyond to hook a big-mouthed bass. I’ll bet there’s a lot of laughing going on in heaven today. Uncle Joe is finally Home, and he’s got a lifetime of jokes to share.