Yesterday, early morning, my uncle Larry died. Quite uncharacteristically for him, it was a quiet affair, slipping away from this world in his sleep at the district hospital in my home town, while the nurses lit candles, not for him, but for his wonderful, graceful wife, Peggy. Larry was a black sheep in our family, funny, since most of the family are black sheep of sorts, but he was legendary. Throughout our childhood, he was a philanderer, a bar-fly, a chancer, a divil, but always with a broad smile and a hug, always gentle and kind to the kids, a kind of pied piper of the pub scene in town..
His one true love it seemed to our young eyes, had been the RNLI, the royal national lifeboat institution: the company of brave ocean warriors who defied fierce storms to rescue suffering humans, off the coast of Ireland and England. Larry was forever fundraising for them, selling christmas cards, whittling wood in shapes of lifeboats, building model lifeboats to put up for auction..For a small, ruddy, roundy man, whom I never remember even seeing in shorts, never mind swimming in the ocean, it seemed odd that he, and his two brothers (my dad amongst them) were such ardent supporters of life-support along the coast.
But there you have it, none of them could swim, still can't..or at least, none of my siblings ever recall seeing any of them enter open water other than to sail, or row boats, so in retrospect, they may be more naturally inclined to support the RNLI as a back up system (in the same way that I used to pray as a child! just-in-case..!!) Ireland, with her history of maratime industry, sharking, fishing, sea travel etc, has always been tightly woven with ocean, and as a result, death and drownings by the ocean have been a fact of life here. So in stead of tossing floral wreaths into the ocean for Larry, instead of wasting money on Interflora or 1800-flowers, I will send a fat donation to the RNLI in Larry's name, and stand on my own shoreline at home in Sag Harbor, by Cedar Point lighthouse and read a poem in his name. http://www.rnli.org.uk/ Growing older, moving on to the USA, on return to New Ross at Christmas, I would sometimes bump into Larry in town, usually in the pub, though less so in later years. He would still have a broad smile, a warm hug, always fondly addressing me, and anyone else, as "pet": "ah Pet, life can't be too bad in america pet", "since you're looking so good pet". .We'd hug, exchange small family talk and go on our way. I would tell my friends travelling with me, some stories baout Larry, about his annual Santa trip to my sister's playschool, where he would be the uber-santa, with the real, big firm belly to climb onto, and the real ruddy face to press close to wide-eyed children.
Go softly Pet, I wish you fair winds and following seas.