Thursday, February 19, 2009

Zio Ugo

When it rains it pours. I no sooner finished writing a tribute for my beloved Zia Fortuna, than her husband, Zio Ugo, followed shortly after her. Like hers, his health had been deteriorating for years, and both of them had been suffering greatly over the past month or so. By God’s mercy, they went within a few days of each other.

How do I describe Giuseppe Scarfì, known to me as Zio Ugo? He was the fun uncle, always good for a joke (sometimes a bit off color, much to Zia Fortuna’s chagrin). He dearly loved his family, both immediate and extended. He addressed young and old alike with terms of endearment such as tesoro [treasure] and gioia [joy], and they were heartfelt expressions.

He was also the uncle of strange ideas… well, not so strange after all. For most of the time I knew him as the communist of the family, but hardly in keeping with the stereotype. He had notions of justice and equality that he thought--at least for a time--were embodied in the Italian Communist Party. He had a right to his opinion and I never faulted him for it, even being the arch conservative and capitalist that I am, because I knew that deep down, Zio Ugo was an altogether decent and idealistic person, motivated by a sense of fairness and justice. He was also a working man, spending many days away from home working for the Italian State Railways. When he wasn’t serving the travelers on overnight sleeping cars, he was doing side work waiting on tables.

I often wondered what he would think of visiting the USA, which given his world view would have been tantamount to going into the belly of the beast. He and Zia Fortuna did visit in 1993 and he actually liked it, so much so that they came again in 1995/1996. It probably was not so much that he liked the USA but that he loved our family. And the feeling was quite mutual. We had a special place in our hearts for Zio Ugo and Zia Fortuna, and for all of their children: Maria, Roberto, Claudio and Ricardo. Now they and their respective families are very much on our hearts. I wish I could be in Italy to hug them and cry with them.

For most of the time I knew him, Zio Ugo did not seem to have much room for anything resembling religion, though he certainly respected Zia Fortuna’s faith. Perhaps it was due to an understandable anti-clericalism borne out of excesses and abuses within the church; or perhaps it was the influence of doctrinaire communism. But in the last decade or two, I noticed a softening of his heart, even indicated by little things such as acknowledging the mealtime prayers of others by making a sign of the cross himself.

I don’t think I got to speak to him in the past month or two, as he was in even worse shape than Zia Fortuna. The last time I spoke to Zia Fortuna by phone (I think it was February 4th), she joyfully told me of an answered prayer. Because both of them were in terrible health and bed-ridden, the parish priest came to pray with them and administer sacraments, which Zio Ugo gladly received. Knowing the man that Zio Ugo was, this could not have been a mere formality or acquiescence to tradition, but rather a sign of genuine faith and belief. I believe God had mercy on Zio Ugo, as He does on all of us who turn to Him.

Farewell, Zio Ugo. I will miss you. But I look forward to seeing you again.

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