Last week, the world lost a great man. A father, a friend, a brother, a husband. He was my uncle and I will miss him very much. Just like my own brothers, we didn’t talk, visit or hang out as much as we did when I was a kid, but that doesn’t mean our connection was any less strong than it had ever been.
I still am shocked by how suddenly this happened. It was only a few months ago that Susie called my aunt in Cincinnati and wondered what they were doing for the day. We were thinking about coming down to go to the Ikea and wanted to visit. My aunt was so excited that she took the rest of the day off of work so that her and my uncle could hang out with Hannah and Amelia while Susie and I went shopping. The girls (and I think my aunt and uncle as well!) had a blast playing games and visiting and then when we all had a fun dinner and shared stories until it was getting to be past everyone’s bedtime and we needed to get back on the road. We begrudgingly started our trek back home with thoughts and plans to visit again soon. Hannah was getting better at playing games and my uncle loved playing games. There was the annual road-trip to a Cubs game to think about. Plus, who knows what other spontaneous surprises might pop up like that day’s adventure. Little did any of us know that would be the last time I would see my uncle.
Since hearing the news of his passing, I think about all of the time I spent with him in the past and still cannot believe that there will be no more new stories to write. No more new joy to share. But I can at least relish the memories that I do have and share them so that, as his oldest son so eloquently put it, you can get to know him a little better.
Patrick McKenna was my dad’s youngest and only brother. My first recollections of him were the months that I spent sharing a room with him. I have no idea exactly how long he stayed with us or exactly what year it was. I think I was about 10 years old. The first thing I remember being struck by was the fact that even though he was an adult, he drank milk at meals. I had never known any adult to do that. My parents almost always drank water, unless it was a special occasion and then they had soda. But there he was, just like me, drinking milk at dinner.
But the most intriguing thing that he introduced into my world was his computer. Back then it wasn’t much and I wasn’t allowed to touch it. But it had a most excellent game on it that I always wished I was allowed to play. It was an adventure game, but this was before there were any fancy graphics or controllers. It was solely a text-based game, describing the scene around you and you controlled the action by typing in what steps you wanted to take next. (Think the video game from Big minus the graphics.) All I could think about was some day being old enough to be allowed to play. I never did get to play, but I think I have done just fine in the adventure video game department.
Fast forward a handful of years. My uncle has gotten married and is living in the Chicago area. Multiple times I visited my aunt and uncle and had excellent adventures. Going to the Lincoln Park Zoo and walking around the area then coming home to make mini-pizzas on English muffins (Pure genius, by the way.) Spending an extremely hot summer weekend at their house in Wheaton, running around, playing catch and getting overheated. They didn’t have central air in their vintage house, but they did have a window unit in their bedroom. I don’t think I have ever been hotter than I was that afternoon and there was never a more heavenly feeling than laying on the floor of that room, air conditioner blasting Arctic air, curtains closed, making it feel like I was deep inside of a cool dark cave.
Tracking all the way back to that ancient computer sitting on our family’s dining room table, one common thread through most of my experiences with Uncle Pat (and probably most everyone else’s experiences) was playing games. In fact multiple people wondered out loud over the past few days if we shouldn’t be playing games during the viewing. Board games, card games, dice games, I think my uncle was a fan of all games. I can remember him dominating games of Trivial Pursuit at our house. There was the time that within about 30 seconds of his family arriving at my parent’s house, we were all playing Left, Right, Center. I was excited to have learned how to play Settler of Catan because I knew that he and his family had played before and would be great adversaries. But the piece de resistance was probably a memorable game of Scattergories.
The letter rolled was a ‘W’. The category was Food. I don’t remember that anyone else came up with a qualifying food. If they did, it surely was not as memorable as what Uncle Pat came up with. The answer was three simple letters ‘W-A-T’, to which we said “What?!” Surely that was a made up word and answer. So we asked him to define it, surely calling his bluff. Only he immediately came back with “an Ethiopian soup”. We all sat there flabbergasted. We still half-thought it was baloney, but he was said it with such conviction and stood up to the crowd (plus we knew he was smart), that eventually we gave in and gave him his point. And we all received a story to remember forever.
Heaven now has a new houseguest and I am sure that he was welcomed in with open arms. I am equally sure that as soon as he stepped through the Pearly Gates, he gathered a handful of people together to get a game started.