He was my brother-in-law, and he was always known around our house as “Uncle Pat.” After his sister Nancy and I bought a very old house, he spent so much time helping us fix up the place that our young daughters used to think he lived in our basement, sleeping on the tool bench.
He was, by far, the nicest guy I’ve ever known. I’m proud that he and his own wife, Joann, married in the backyard of our old house. When a bag-piper showed up that day, playing loud music with quiet dignity and adding something unexpectedly sweet to our ordinary suburban New Jersey lives, I thought, “How appropriate.” Because that was Uncle Pat in a nutshell.
On his every birthday since his death from cancer 17 years ago, my wife has served his favorite food since childhood for dinner – hot dogs and fudge marble cake.
She’s out buying the fixings now, so I thought I’d take a moment this dreary afternoon, when all is silent except for the beat of raindrops on the front porch roof that Uncle Pat built, just to say his name here.
A recent newspaper column about local pastor Dan O’Neill noted that at this year’s 9/11 event, he delivered the shortest speech: “We’re not really gone from this world until people stop saying our name,” Fr. O’Neill said, then recited the names of neighbors who had died at Ground Zero.
So Uncle Pat is not really gone. We’ll have hot dogs and fudge marble cake for dinner, and Nancy and Joann will organize another fund-raising golf outing in his name next year to benefit the American Cancer Society.
And, in the end, I think it’s no coincidence that Thomas Patrick Cullinane was born on the same day as John Lennon, who would have been 76 today. Kindred spirits, both have lived long in the hearts and memories of others.
How is that possible?
It’s easy. All you need is love.