Why I Relay: Uncle Rich

Everyone should be so lucky as to have an Uncle Rich. And no, you can’t have mine. I already have to share him with my 35 Farrell first cousins, and however more nieces and nephews there are vying for his attention on the Lopresti side of his family.

I won’t call Uncle Rich my favorite uncle. I prefer to remain noncommittal in that regards, as there is no room for favoritism in a family like mine. (Not unless you care to be voided off everyone else’s Christmas list.) But I think that all of my cousins would agree that he’s got a special place in all of our hearts.

A bit of history on the Farrells and the Lopresti families before we go forward. My mother and her 12 Irish Catholic siblings grew up on 78th Street in Brooklyn, separated by nothing more than a driveway from the thoroughly Italian Lopresti household with its seven children. Over the years, the two families intertwined, with two of my mom’s sisters marrying brothers from next door.

Aunt Grace and Uncle Sal, who recently celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary, were the first to fall in love. Aunt Maureen and Uncle Rich followed suit a few years later. Want to hear something incredibly romantic? They chose Doris Day’s “Secret Love” as their wedding song since they had kept their budding feelings for one another to themselves for so long.

When I was growing up, Uncle Rich was THAT uncle. You know, the one who pinched your cheeks to within an inch of their chubby little lives every time you saw him. But, since he always came bearing bags of fresh bagels and other assorted baked goods from downstate, I always found it easy to forgive.

But not forget, obviously.

Food always comes to mind when I think of Uncle Rich, and not just because he paid visits to the Italian bakery before coming to see us. The man is a master when it comes to cooking. My stomach growls at the mere mention of his pizza, and don’t get me started on his homemade ravioli. Or his sauce, for that matter. And he introduced me to the wonders of the “pork store,” where the very best sausage is made.

Yep, he set the culinary bar high for the rest of the family. (No offense to my mother or her meatloaf.)

For most of the extended Farrell clan, summer vacation entailed a visit to our house, a.k.a. “The Farm.” Not me, though. My vacation get-a-way was spending a week or two at “The Lake,” as the Lopresti’s home in Highland Lakes, N.J. was referred. I relished this time with Aunt Maureen, Uncle Rich and my older cousins, Barbara and Richie.

As I think back, I was probably a bit of a handful, accustomed as I was to being spoiled rotten by my doting parents and siblings. I demanded stories be read to me every night, used far too much toilet paper, begged to go to Dairy Queen daily, begged to sleep in Barbara’s bed, harassed their Collie Sam to no end and insisted upon climbing the ladder into the loft that served as my cousin Richie’s bedroom. Repeatedly. Despite my paralyzing fear of and refusal to come back down said ladder.

Yeah, I was a piece of work, what can I say?

As I got older, and they relocated first to Rutherford and then to North Arlington, I still spent time each summer with them. I have fond memories of eating Sabrett hotdogs, trips to the movies, fresh bagels on weekend mornings, Farrell family get-togethers and being licked to death by Ginger Peach, Barb’s lovable cocker spaniel. As a special treat, I’d get to help Uncle Rich make his famous pizza. Oh, and did I mention they had cable? (We didn’t even have TV at my house!) Those were some great summers.

Uncle Rich, Aunt Maureen and Barbara were my lifeline when I went to college, especially during my first few months in Riverdale. With my parents 4 hours away and most of Manhattan College classmates living within an easy drive, I’d be one of the few freshmen left on campus over the weekends. But the Loprestis would come fetch me, and I’d spend a couple of days at their house, eating all of Uncle Rich’s good home cooking. And I’d return to campus feeling refreshed, and a little less like a fish out of water.

They’d make sure I got to Farrell family functions too, where I’d get to see Uncle Rich and my dad together. They’d been partners in crime in their younger days, and I always loved hearing them swap stories and laugh about the “old days.” I loved, too, pouring over old photographs of the two of them, in their high-waisted pants and white t-shirts, or their red and black plaid hunting clothes from the days before we made “The Farm” our permanent address.

It’s the only time I ever had a hint of Uncle Rich’s wild side. To me, he has always been the calm in the storm. The point of refuge when things get crazy. Easy with a laugh and a smile. And, thankfully, he grew out of the whole cheek-pinching thing. Knee replacements, leukemia, prostate cancer, nothing knocked him down.

He, Aunt Maureen and Barbara are back in New Jersey – Red Bank this time – after a brief sojourn to Florida. He’s missed the last couple of family get-togethers, though, as chemo has drained a lot of his strength. Because after he TKO’d cancer in his first two bouts, it’s back for a third round match up. He’s still fighting, though. Even though some days I know it’s not easy.

It has been far too long since I’ve made the trip down to see Uncle Rich, but he is in my thoughts every single day.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, he’s one of the biggest reasons why I feel so strongly about raising money for cancer research, and why I Relay.

You can bet I’ll be thinking about my Uncle Rich this weekend when I represent The Evening Sun on Snyder Communications’ Relay for Life team, Snyder’s Striders. I am hoping you will walk with me in spirit by making a donation to this worthy cause, in support of all the Uncle Rich’s out there.

To make an online donation, visit www.relayforlife.org/chenangocountyny. If you prefer to make a donation by cash or check, please contact me at (607) 337-3071. Any little bit helps.

Love you, Uncle Rich.

Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunmelissa.

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