Taken for Granted: A day of praise for unsung uncles

We have Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and special days set aside to recognize grandparents, secretaries, mailmen, dog catchers, etc., but no Uncle’s Day. I’m lobbying for an Uncle’s Day, based on the four fascinating uncles who added adventure and laughter to my early life.

Let’s start with my Uncle Danny. An IRA fugitive, he fled Ireland seeking refuge in the U.S. Upon meeting Uncle Dan, he would offer to display where he had been shot fleeing the British. A naïve “OK” would prompt a casual dropping of his trousers, screaming women and a reach for the waistband of his shorts. He never did go all the way and his cheeky badge of honor remained a sight unseen.

Some 40 years after his escapades on behalf of Irish freedom and anticipating a daring return to the old sod, Uncle Dan had all his teeth pulled but one in preparation for a free set of false teeth from the British Health Service. Given his propensity to bare all, he would challenge each kid to admire his Pepsodent smile and then opening wide, display one lonely fang, dangling front and center from his upper gum.

I also had an Uncle Vinny long before Joe Pesci created the movie character. Vinny was also from “Jersey” and Italian-American. Renowned for his sense of humor, he was always taking pratfalls for our amusement.

Vinny worked in a fish factory and his presence could be detected effervescently, well before he came into view. In addition to his flair for the comical, he was accident prone. On one occasion he tumbled into a fish oil vat and nearly drowned, either to get a laugh or as the victim of an untied shoe lace.

I can recall Uncle Vin merrily dangling his feet over the tailgate of a pickup truck as we rode along. A few minutes into the journey, noting the absence of his distinctive eau de cologne, I glanced back and there was a bewildered Uncle Vinny sitting smack in the middle of the road, a half mile back.

Carrying him into the local ER, he was greeted familiarly by his first name as though he had a standing reservation. As with the fish tank incident, his physical discomfiture was sometimes mistaken for an effort at humor.

Uncle Bill was a mathematical genius who worked his way up from minor jobs to Maitre ‘d and bookkeeper for a very exclusive Manhattan restaurant. You could rattle off 20, seven-digit numbers and he could give you the total immediately after you said the twentieth number. His incredible ability with numbers being noted by the owner, he was asked to keep the books and proved so adept with one set of books that the boss asked him to keep a second set — the latter for the exclusive use of the IRS. Of the many jobs he performed for the restaurant, the only “cooking” he ever did was its books.

Not all my uncles were cut-ups or scoundrels, take my Uncle Matt, the poet laureate of the family, more Ogden “Hash” than Robert Frost. In the 1950s, companies ran dozens of contests soliciting jingles touting their products. Uncle Matt was a genius at coming up with comic ditties and would consistently “win, place or show.”

As a result, his house was stuffed with three or four of every appliance. It became a standing joke that if you needed an iron, a Mixmaster or a refrigerator you had best check with Uncle Matt for a good deal.

Special days are generally set aside to acknowledge the more noble roles parents, grandparents, etc. play in our lives. But if most kid’s uncles are anything like the colorful characters I grew up with, the criteria for a day of recognition should be modified to include the ability to fascinate kids with their peculiar talents and sense of the ridiculous.

Drop me an e-mail if you have had the joy of having a particularly interesting or amusing uncle and wish to join my campaign to designate a day to honor uncles.

PAT GRANT has lived in Glendale for more than 30 years and was formerly a marketing manager for an insurance company. He may be reached at tfgranted@gmail.com.

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