Uncle Gerry was a tough guy. He was known in New York as "Do Daly," the bouncer at many clubs, the guy who did the dirty work to collect money owed to the Hells Angels. He was big, over six feet tall and muscle thick. He had his mother's liquid- blue eyes and jet-black hair, which he wore to his shoulders. He was a champion of women in a misogynist-meets--Don Quixote way. Uncle Gerry didn't think before he punched, especially if a woman's honor was at stake. Nearly every one of his arrest stories begins with, "This guy was harassing a lady in a bar." He had broken every bone in his hands countless times beating men unconscious. Once he was arrested for assaulting a police officer in a bar. Uncle Gerry had the man up against the wall by the throat and shoulder when the guy choked out the words, "I'm a cop!" My uncle's defense to the judge was, "Your honor, this man was being very rude to the young lady." When the judge asked Uncle Gerry what he should do with him, Uncle Gerry responded, "Your honor, I believe a severe verbal reprimand is in order." And that's all he got. Uncle Gerry was also a charmer.
Since that first phone call over a decade ago, my Uncle Gerry and I spoke regularly. We sent each other cards, pictures; sometimes he'd send me money. He told me how wonderful my father was, had always been. He confessed to me his fear that he would not be forgiven for his sins, to which I'd say, "I don't believe in Hell." At some point during every conversation, he would tell me how much he loved me. How much fun he had talking to me.
In recent years, Uncle Gerry's tiny Latina wife, Marcia, nursed her giant husband as his body deteriorated like the foliage in that jungle 40 years ago. When she spoke with my father a few hours after Uncle Gerry was no more, Marcia said, "Who will protect me now?" As if she hadn't realized he'd become an invalid.
Uncle Gerry was my glass box to break in case of emergency. Just knowing he existed made me feel safe. The offer stood -- if I wanted someone, anyone, out of my life, all I had to do was make one phone call, no questions asked. I like to think that, in a fatherly way, Uncle Gerry was proud of me for never having taken him up on it.