Saying goodbye to a true family man

Many Hot Air readers may be wondering why I haven’t been doing much writing since last Wednesday, although those following me on Twitter already know that we had a death in the family.  My godfather and uncle, Emilio Squieri, passed away suddenly last weekend at 73 years of age.  My cousins Cris, Tony, and Jeanette buried him on Saturday, and the family is still reeling.

Emilio was a remarkable man — a real American success story.  He came to the US as a teenager with his family from the Calabria region of Italy in the mid-1950s.  He worked hard his entire life, and not in the we-had-to-skip-our-cappuccino-break manner we think of working hard these days.  Emilio worked six or seven days a week building furniture for his entire adult life to provide for his family.  In fact, perhaps it’s appropriate to write this tribute on Labor Day, because I have never seen any man work harder than my Uncle Emilio, and to have as much joy as he did in doing so.

He met Violet, my mother’s sister, when he was 21 and she was 19 and they became instantly inseparable.  They had a love affair throughout the rest of their lives together; their song was “The Twelfth of Never” by Johnny Mathis, and it fit them perfectly. They were married for 41 years until my Aunt Vi’s death in 2002, and throughout her illness, he was entirely devoted to her.  That was true for Emilio with the entire family.  When my sister and I were kids, we spent summers with our cousins and Emilio and Vi in Lake Havasu, Arizona, so they became our second parents.  It took us some time to realize that they were as welcoming and supportive of all our family as they were with us.

Whenever anyone needed a hand with a project around the house, Uncle Emilio would be the first to arrive, the last to leave, and wouldn’t take a break until the work was done.  He put men twenty-five years younger than he to shame with his work ethic — and I should know, because I’m 25 years younger than him, and I can attest to struggling to keep up.  He never provided his helping hand in a sense of being obligated, either.  Emilio loved helping his family and friends.

In fact, I learned this the hard way about 15 years ago or so, when I decided that I was going to repaint the interior of my house here in California.  I got it into my head that I could do the whole job with just a paint sprayer.  About two weeks later, I got a call from Aunt Vi, and she asked me, “Did you paint your house a couple of weeks ago?”

I said yes, I did.  She asked me,  “Why didn’t you ask your Uncle Emilio to help?”

I was a little surprised by the question, and I said, “Well, everyone always bugs him to help on projects, so I wanted to give him a break.”  Aunt Vi told me that he’d heard about it, and wondered why I didn’t want him to help out.  Of course, I felt pretty bad about that and told her again that I just didn’t want to bother him, and she told me, “Oh, honey, he loves helping family out.  It’s never a bother.”

And it’s just poetic justice that I did a lousy job with the paint sprayer, too.

The Bible instructs men to love their families with a servant’s heart.  Uncle Emilio was the embodiment of that scripture, and he loved us all with a joy and warmth that was unmistakable.  As my other role model of manhood, my Dad, told me over the weekend, Uncle Emilio never had a bad word to say about anyone.  He liked people, and everyone liked him.  When I think about Uncle Emilio, I think about his smile and his laughter.  He brought joy with him and shared it with all.

Emilio Squieri was a big, big man, and he will leave a big, big hole in our lives and our hearts.   The one consolation we all have is that Emilio and Vi are together again, sailing on towards that twelfth of never, and waiting to greet us at the end our journeys here in this world.  And if any of us have any trouble settling into the next life, Emilio will be there will his big smile and laugh, sharing his joy with us all, and being the first to volunteer to give us a hand.

My cousin told me over the weekend that Emilio was very proud of my success in life. She said that she would hear from her father if he happened to see me on TV or hear me on the radio. I was very touched by her recollection, but it got me thinking that we rarely get a chance to celebrate the true heroes of our lives — the men and women who work hard to provide for their families, help people out of love rather than from grudging obligation, and make a better life for the generations that follow. Those men and women don’t usually get on TV or radio, and don’t get the kind of attention that they truly deserve. I’m blessed to have been Emilio Squieri’s nephew and godson, and I’m blessed to celebrate his life and share in some small way what he meant to our entire family.

Note: I hope that Hot Air readers will excuse me for a couple of days longer.  I plan to spend as much time with my family as I can on this trip.  I’ll be back to work on Wednesday.  The front page picture is that of Emilio and Vi at our wedding in 1994.