Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Uncle Joe

It had been a while since I lost a close family member. Lately, however, I’m losing several and others are seriously ill or injured. It’s less difficult with the older ones, but some are younger. A couple of friends and acquaintances have passed too.

Joe Haggerty was my favorite uncle and my last surviving one. He was part of the “Greatest Generation. He did things for me no one else took time to do. He took movies of us kids growing up - Hours of 8mm film chronicling two decades that wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for him buying a camera and then pulling it out so many times as we were growing up. Joe taught me to appreciate music and art. He explained what caused the Great Depression. He taught me to sail. He organized a surprise party when I finished graduate school. He encouraged me and everyone else to strive and to savor life. He was an example of someone who did both.
Joe lived on a lake. That was wondrous to me as a kid. Go swimming or fishing any time you want? Amazing. When he took his family on vacation somewhere else, he invited our family of eight children to stay there, even when knowing that some of us wet the bed. He brought his family to our house every Christmas Eve. For the first few years he and Aunt Pat gave each of us a pair of pajamas. Practical. Then one year he said the heck with the pajamas and gave the whole family a ping-pong table. My brother and I became quite good at it.
Joe and his sister Mary (my mother) in the Aran Islands

Joe smiled a lot. I have a hard time remembering him when he wasn’t. He was positive, always looking for a silver lining though his life wasn’t always easy. For years, he and Pat were unable to conceive, so they adopted three children. Then she got pregnant - with triplets! None made it, however, living only a few days. Later, Aunt Pat came down with MS. Joe nursed her lovingly for years until she died, and we never heard him complain.He joined the Navy before World War II broke out and was assigned to guard the Panama Canal as a crewman aboard a PB4Y - a huge “flying boat” that could land in water and take off from it. I asked him if he ever saw action and he answered, “Yes and no.” While flying a diplomat from Hawaii to Australia the clouds opened and he looked down at the Battle of the Coral Sea raging below. He hoped no Japanese pilots looked up and spotted his big plane because they would likely have shot it down, but the clouds came back together and it proceeded unmolested. He saw action, but did not participate. A painting in one of the US History books I used to teach from depicted just the kind of view he would have seen and I’d share Uncle Joe’s story with my classes each year.After the war he went to Northeastern University on the GI Bill and became an electrical engineer. As the grandson of Irish immigrant coal miners, that was a big deal. He was the only one if his generation on both sides of my family to have gone to college, much less graduated. After years at Raytheon and RCA, he changed careers and taught economics at a small college in Massachusetts. It was then I asked him what caused the Great Depression and he took the time to give me an understanding that I’ve built on throughout my life.Asking other family members how they remember Uncle Joe, I hear that he listened. He was easy to talk to. They trusted him. I drove down for his 90th birthday three years ago. He’d been a widower for some time by then and he introduced me to his “lady friends.” There were five of them. He went dancing with them regularly. He played the piano. He was a prolific painter, mostly with water colors. He was good at both.At a pub in the Aran Islands: Me, my mother Mary, Joe, my wife Roseann

With my wife and mother, we toured the west of Ireland together the following spring. I was concerned that she at 85 and he at 90 would slow us down, but I needn’t have been. I had to pull them both out of a Doolin pub our first night there because I wanted to go to bed. We looked around the village of Crossmolina in the County Mayo countryside from where their grandparents (my great-grandparents) Peter Haggerty and Kate McDonnell came. Both knew Kate, but Peter had died of black lung in Wilkesbarre, Pennsylvania before they were born.
Getting ready to take a shot in Connemara

Uncle Joe has joined them now in the Great Beyond where we’ll all go someday. I’ll have more questions for him when I get there and I’m confident he’ll take the time to listen.


Anonymous said...

Everyone should have an Uncle Joe.
May he rest in peace.

Bradley said...

I had a Uncle Joe as well. He was the most ethical, no nonsense man I've ever known. He was a WWII Vet and retired from the local fire department. He loved football and took me to my first Patriots game in 1971 just before I left for Basic Training. He died from Alzheimer's and never got to enjoy the Pat's Superbowl wins. He deserved better!

Anonymous said...

What worries me is there isn't many new Uncle Joe's taking his place.

Great to see you touching with family Tom.