The Sound of a Quiet Hum
Everyone has that one uncle. The one that never married. The one that would sit at the kid’s table. The one no matter the chaos going on amongst the kids, he would stay calm. For us, that was my Uncle Sonny.
As usual, Sonny wasn’t his real name. But unlike my Uncle Chubby, I really don’t know where Sonny came from at all. His real name was Ettore Victor Fieramosca, but to everyone he was Sonny. He was a maintenance man at Stephen Crane Village in Newark. As I have mentioned previously, I grew up in a multi-generational household, with my grandparents and Uncle Sonny upstairs, and me and my family downstairs. No matter what, Uncle Sonny was always there.
While many people remember the big moments in their lives, for me and my Uncle Sonny, it’s the little snapshots. The moments people would consider everyday, or even mundane, that stick out in my mind. He used to grate cheese for my Grandma and it was always a giant piece! He would wrap it in a damp towel and I would sit quietly and watch him grate it into a big bowl on the dining room table. Sometimes he would cut a little piece off for me while I would sit and watch.
All the time he would hum.
On Saturday afternoons we would watch whatever baseball game was on and he would teach me the rules, and how to keep score. He would sometimes sneak the can of black olives meant for the salad for Sunday’s dinner and we would would eat them right out of the can while we watched the game. Oftentimes my Aunt Roslyn would bring baseball cards over to us from the deli she and my Uncle Tony owned and we would sort them out and organize them into a photo album. I still have that album over 30 years later.
All the time he would hum.
When I was little he would sing “Here she comes, Miss America,” when I would walk into a room. It made me feel so incredibly special. When I would practice piano, he would sit and listen, no matter how many mistakes I made.
He was more than my Uncle. He was my buddy. And I loved him. I still do.
So when I was just starting high school and he mentioned he had a headache during Sunday dinner and he wanted to see the doctor, it was a surprise. In my entire life, I could never remember him taking a vacation day or a sick day.
That’s when they found the brain tumor.
As I’ve been told since I was young, he was outside when a woman threw a flower pot out the window at kids playing in the street and hit my Uncle in the head. After that he developed epilepsy. Everyone cared for him. His getting to work was dependent upon the public bus schedule. So when we moved to Belleville, he was able to take the bus to work. I was allowed to walk to the end of the block after school to wait for him so we could walk home together.
What medical science couldn’t tell until decades later is that injury turned into an inoperable brain tumor. The seizures that were under control for decades came back full force. A major part of my life was fading away before my very eyes.
Even though he was now bed-ridden, we would sit with him and I would tell him about my day. I would go into his room and play some of his favorite records. And he would hum to the music. He had nurses around the clock. I actually took prom photos with his nurses. It just became normal to have them around. They were like part of the family.
The last six months of his life, he didn’t speak. I learned much later he stopped talking around us kids to get us used to not hearing his voice. But sometimes I would still catch him humming.
Uncle Sonny passed away in 1987 after a life full of challenges and hard work. But as kids we had no idea about any of that. All I knew is he was the quiet Uncle who would sneak me olives and cheese, teach me baseball, and hum.
There are days I still think I hear him humming.