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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Uncle Jack



John J. Duddy, my mother's brother.
July 23, 1923-August 16, 2010
retired firefighter, Arlington MA

I'm not able to attend Uncle Jack's funeral. I saw him twice over the summer. I'm so grateful for a bonus visit I had with him in his home (Grammie and Grampie's house!) a week before he died. A few weeks earlier we had looked through all the family scrapbooks. He had complete recall...who-what-where etc. going back eighty years. He was proud to have been a long time member of the Arlington MA fire department. He had two families and was loved and honored by both. At 87 and in failing health, I can't say his death was unexpected, but it was a shock nonetheless. I had hoped to bring my daughter back to see him in the fall. He told me he would sit and go through the family scrapbooks with her, and I waned badly to take a picture of them together. Not to be.

Here are two Uncle Jack stories, one funny and one sad but beautiful.
The funny one he used to tell on himself.
We had a distant cousin named Julia. She was of my grandparents' (his parents) generation. I remember her as a large, hearty lady with a brogue. She died, and of course it was necessary to go to her wake. Uncle Jack and Grandpa set out but made a few stops along the way. They arrived at the funeral home feeling no pain, tried to gather themselves and went in to pay respects. They looked down on Julia in her casket and thought: "Oh, that cancer is terrible-poor lady. She looks awful." They spent the evening visiting the family, lurching a bit and paid one last visit to the bier ("she looks terrible") and only later were told that that the deceased was a smallish ninety year old MAN they didn't know ("but the family was very nice") and poor Julia was laid out, looking hearty, in another funeral home. True story.

Sad: I understand it was Uncle Jack who found my mother in the basement. He called the Lexington fire department. One of the firemen came to her funeral. I had gone to high school with this guy--didn't know him well. He took me aside and told me "I knew your Uncle was a fire fighter. He wouldn't let us touch your mother. She was in her nightgown and until he covered her he wouldn't let us near her. He was a brother then, not a fireman. We were four big guys with axes and he was a man in his sixties just out of heart surgery and we were all afraid of him!"

Mother used to boss him (all of us) around but in the end it was he who was most protective of her. Sad. Beautiful, though. I loved him before that and I loved him more ever since.

I had three great visits with him this summer and I'm grateful for that. The last time I saw him he was in good form. We were so lucky to have had him as long as we did.

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