Of Roses and Ballroom Dancing

People often ask me where I find the inspiration for my weekly columns. Often, I will write about a person of great significance to me, a recent memorable event, or sometimes just a random thought that seems at once entertaining and/or newsworthy. And then there is this column, written by special request, for my Uncle Al.

I think if you took a survey of every family far and wide, you would be hard-pressed to find someone with the same mix of humor, thoughtfulness, and a slight touch of zaniness thrown in for good measure. (After all, this is the man who once forgot what parking lot he had left his car in and nearly walked home out of sheer frustration.) He is unique in so many ways; ways I can not even begin to touch on in this column. In this case, words simply do not capture the essence of the man – he is, plainly put, the life of the party…and of our family.

Though I would never think to refer to him as anything but my uncle, he is actually my mother’s, and therefore my “great” uncle…a title even more appropriate. We have always been extremely close throughout the years, celebrating every Christmas Eve together for as long as I can remember. For the last 20 or so years at least, it has always been Uncle Al mixing the martinis as we arrived at my grandparents’ house, and it has always been Uncle Al fighting with me over that last fried shrimp. Some things are just a given.

More recently, Uncle Al had taken to purchasing single long-stem roses from the flower shop where I used to work to give to various people in his family. I’ll never forget the day I finished ringing him up for one of these said roses, only to have him hand it to me across the counter. Despite my best efforts to give him a refund, he refused, simply walking out and leaving me with the rose in hand. Now, every opportunity I have, I return the favor. It has become our “thing,” if you will.

I have often referred to my many years of dancing in this column. I don’t recall how specific I’ve been but, to clarify, I take what can best be described as “typical” dance recital fare: ballet, jazz, tap and lyrical. A running joke between my uncle and I has always been that, while I may have a “leg up” in these areas, he was – and always will be – the undisputed “Ballroom Dance Champion.” Often – at holiday gatherings, family parties, pretty much anywhere with a square of available space – he would suddenly get that look and, before I knew it, there we would be positioned in a tiny, tile-shaped area, “dancing” like true professionals (even if we did only cover one square foot when all was said and done).

Lately, my uncle has been feeling increasingly under the weather due to his long battle with prostate cancer. Over the last couple of months, he has landed in the hospital repeatedly. While visiting him there recently, he said to me, “So, when are you going to write a column about me?” “About you?” I asked. “What would you like me to write?” He considered for a moment. “Oh, I don’t know. Anything…start with what a great guy I am.”  

As we prepared to leave the hospital, he mused, “You know, the one thing I really need to work on is my leg strength…then I can get back to dancing.”

Well, Uncle Al, whenever you’re ready, I’ll be waiting.

With a rose.


{Published: November 16th, 2005}


Jamie Lynn RyanComment