He was my mother’s youngest brother, married to my Aunt Mary, who hailed from Staten Island, NY, with all the fanciness you might expect to find in a person from NY. They were a special couple to all of us Lesizza cousins, because they had no children of their own and they poured out their largesse of time, talent, interest, and attention on all of us. Now just who do you know who would pile a gaggle of noisy teenagers into guess what -- a convertible – and take them off for a day at the beach? This was beyond cool in the 1950’s.
Just as Uncle Joe’s kindness was outsized, so were his expectations. None of us were ever allowed to whine, quit, or otherwise wimp out. I must admit there were times when I had pitched battles with him about the rules of a game or the technique to best make a shot during our backyard croquet games. I have even been known to stomp off the croquet field in frustration, but he never compromised his standards.
In my first year of high school I was struggling with quadratic equations in Algebra. I was a good student and I felt like I reached some sort of Waterloo, and what was I going to do? I have no memory of exactly how he did it, but Uncle Joe caused some kind of light bulb to go on for me that turned quadratic equations and the rest of Algebra into a breeze. The magic of a teacher, even without the title!
Uncle Joe took me to New York City, to Radio City Music Hall, to Coney Island, places that seemed like magic to me and for sure not common fare for my friends and playmates at the time.
When I grew up and became an adult woman with a husband and children of my own, Uncle Joe was still a part of our life. It wasn’t always easy for him to make the adjustment to me being an adult and to treat me as such -- old habits die hard -- but he continued to bring his special magic into the lives of my two children, Joseph and Stefanie. Many a meal he shared with us, many evenings of card games, board games, backyard sports, and holiday gatherings. There were always laughs and smiles.
Uncle Joe loved the movies, he loved to bowl, and he loved to dance. In his later years, he loved a trip to the gambling boat. He knew how lucky he was to have found Pearl and to share his life with her, brief though it may have been. These are things that many people knew about my Uncle Joe, but only a few of us knew that special magic of having him as an uncle during our crucial growing up years. We will remember him in a special way, and we thank God for his presence in our lives.