|Our first photo together? Circa 1975.|
For most of my life I lived in Brooklyn, in very close proximity—walking distance—to the house where resided my grandparents, as well as my grandmother’s three siblings. It was one of those loud, massive Italian families you see in the movies (or maybe in your own life if you were as lucky as me). Recent years have been bittersweet, as we’ve begun bidding our fond farewells. First to my grandmother in 2007. In 2011, it was my grandfather, whom I remembered at length right on this site. And now, my beloved Uncle Peter, who passed away on March 7 at the age of 85.
|Publicity headshot, 1981|
My Uncle Pete was a man of great passions. A passion for good music. A passion for art. A passion for theater and film. A passion for performing. A passion for nature and animals. A passion for food and cooking. A passion for laughter and good conversation. A passion for life.
He had such a zest for life, and he passed it along to everyone around him. He once told me that before he died, he wanted to make sure he left a good taste in everyone’s mouth, and everyone remembered him fondly. I think he accomplished that goal.
He had a love for beauty, and he sought out beautiful things. He shared that with my sister and me. I can honestly say he helped shape the way I look at the world. More than anyone in my young life, he understood me, he nurtured my mind, and he helped me develop into the person I am today. I still remember him taking my sister and me out to help in his garden. I remember him taking me up to his room to play his opera records, and how he would get tears in his eyes listening to them.
|Publicity shot, circa 1960|
(he later came to despise smoking!)
As I’ve discussed in the past, my bond with my grandfather was the closest of all. But Uncle Pete was the one who was most like me—he “got” me in a way no one else did when I was growing up. One of the most valuable things you can do for a child is to validate them; to nourish who they are as people. My uncle did that for me. Whether it was buying me works of great literature to read before I even knew books didn’t need to have pictures; engaging me in discussions about science and humoring my little kid insights; trying to show me the inherent beauty of a Verdi aria or Rachmaninoff concerto even when I wasn’t always the most patient listener; or encouraging me to write from as soon as I showed the aptitude to do so, and always taking time to critique my work. In short, my uncle was the first person to make me feel intelligent, and to instill a confidence in my abilities that has never left.
|As Earthquake McGoon in the Forestburgh|
Summer Theater production of Lil' Abner,
But more than anything, music for him meant classical and opera. As a testament to that, in his room sat shelves full of fairly valuable vintage opera LPs collected over a lifetime, which he would play at maximum volume, often to the consternation of everyone else living there. I can still remember hearing him singing along upstairs--his urgent, Mario Lanza-esque baritone filling the house; or sitting in his room and watching the windows vibrate as he described how the music made the hair on his neck stand up. If this wouldn’t give you a lifelong love of music, nothing would. As I look back now, I see someone who did everything in his power to foster a sensitivity to beauty in a young person in whom he saw that same quality he had in himself. I’m glad he succeeded.
During our regular visits to the house, my Uncle would host what he called “Songfests”, in which my sister and I would join him at the organ singing our own renditions of classic songs. These included anything from traditional chestnuts like “Polly Wolly Doodle” and “My Wild Irish Rose”, to timeless standards like “This Is My Song” and “I’m in the Mood for Love”, and of course a wealth of Christmas carols, which I was proud to be the only kid in class to already know the words to whenever we’d cart them out in school every year. Happily, he also had the foresight to record some of these sessions, the tapes of which are now treasures in my family.
For whatever reason, music and movies played such a strong role in my childhood, which is probably why they still play such a role today. I was lucky enough to have these people who were so involved in my young life, and who had such a love for these things. In the case of Uncle Pete, he was also talented in them himself, which might have been what made him the most downright fun to us as kids. His loss will be felt profoundly--but so will the impact of his life on us.
|Palm Sunday 2011|
“Thank you, Uncle Pete.”