There’s a scene in the movie Ocean’s Eleven, when after being released from prison, Danny Ocean (portrayed by George Clooney) tracks down his ex-wife, Tess (portrayed by Julia Roberts). Although Danny is still in love with Tess, she no longer has any feelings for him and is romantically involved with Terry Bennedict, a wealthy, ruthless owner of three casinos in Las Vegas.
When Danny catches up with Tess, she reminds him that she no longer wants to have anything to do with him. After she tells him to leave her alone, Danny tries to make a point by asking her a question: “Does he make you laugh?” Tess momentarily has a look on her face that makes it appear as though she misses the times that she and Danny laughed together. She then answers Danny’s question: “He doesn’t make me cry.”
Tess’s comment is a painful reminder to Danny that he caused her a lot of pain during their marriage.
That particular scene from the movie popped into my mind last Sunday morning (September 28), the day after I attended the funeral for one of my uncles, Robert “Bob” Schelp.
I learned about Uncle Bob’s death on the previous Wednesday morning (September 24) from a text message that I received from my sister, Rosemary. Up until that time, Rosemary had periodically sent group texts to family members with updates on Uncle Bob’s condition.
Although I knew from the previous texts that Uncle Bob was nearing the end of his life, the text message about his death was a heart-wrenching experience. Even though I was not particularly close to Uncle Bob, I felt as though a part of me died with him. My immediate thought was, everyone who grew up in the neighborhood is going to feel the same way that I feel right now when they hear about his death.
I’ve written before about how I grew up in a family neighborhood. There were seven homes in the neighborhood, six of which were overseen by Lebanese women, all of whom were relatives: my mom, Kathryn Williams; my grandmother, Effie Williams; my aunts, Marlene Miller and Pat Schelp; my cousin, Marie Ketcham; and my great aunt, Martha Joseph. The seventh home in the neighborhood was overseen by my Aunt Mary Jo Williams.
I wrote about Aunt Mary Jo after her death in April 2013. She was married to my dad’s youngest brother, William “Bill” Williams. Uncle Bob was married to my dad’s younger sister, Patricia “Pat” Williams. Aunt Mary Jo was the lone Italian in the neighborhood and Uncle Bob was the lone Irishman. Both of them were outsiders who had married into a close-knit Lebanese family.
Uncle Bob was born and raised in New York. After graduating from high school, he joined the United States Air Force. He met Aunt Pat while they were both vacationing in Florida with their friends. Shortly after their marriage in January 1967, Uncle Bob and Aunt Pat built a house in the family neighborhood.
My first memory of Uncle Bob dates back to the summer of 1968, when I was 11 years old. It happened on a Saturday evening when several members of the extended Williams family were at my grandparents’ home for a family get-together. During the early evening hours, several of the adults were visiting with each other while they were sitting on lawn chairs that were set up in the backyard.
Someone mentioned the upcoming November presidential election between the Republican, Richard Nixon, and the Democrat, Hubert Humphrey. After a lively discussion, it appeared as though everyone was going to be voting for Nixon. Uncle Bob remained silent during the entire discussion until someone asked whom he was going to vote for. Without hesitation, he said, “I’m going to vote for Humphrey.”
A firestorm erupted. A few of the Williams men and women shot questions at him and attempted to intimidate and bully him into changing his mind. He stood up to all of them and defended his position. There was no way he was going to let his new in-laws get the best of him. That day, the young Irishman from New York proved that he could hold his own against a Lebanese tribe of opinionated, strong-willed individuals.
Over the years, as I got to know Uncle Bob, it became clear to me that he possessed the following traits:
1. Duty Bound – Uncle Bob was generally quiet and reserved. He possessed a strong sense of duty toward his family and a protective instinct toward the people who were important to him. When he was left alone, he was like a teddy bear. If someone picked on him or challenged him, he would become animated and would aggressively defend himself. He took his duty to protect his family seriously and when he perceived that his wife or children were being picked on or threatened, he became fearless and ferocious.
2. Loyal and Dependable – Uncle Bob was extremely loyal and faithful to his family. He was the type of individual who was always willing to put forth an extreme amount of energy and effort toward making sure he had a harmonious home that ran smoothly and efficiently. He took his role as a father very seriously and cared deeply about his children. Rather than showing affection toward others by using feelings or words, his natural way of showing affection was through his actions. He was a good listener, very dependable, and his word was as good as gold. He could always be counted on to honor his commitments.
3. Perseverance – An important character trait that Uncle Bob possessed was his ability to persevere. He had a strong sense of self-confidence and did not give up easily. He was not afraid of criticism and was good at handling conflict. When he set his mind on a goal, he persevered until he accomplished it. It seemed as though he was able to do anything that he decided he was going to do.
So why did I think of the scene in Ocean’s Eleven where Danny Ocean reminds his ex-wife that he used to make her laugh? Because the one trait that sticks out most in my mind about Uncle Bob was his ability to make his wife laugh. If he had lived three more years, they would have been able to celebrate 50 years of what appeared to me to be a happy and rewarding marriage. How did the strong-willed Lebanese woman get along so well with the strong-minded Irishman from New York? They were able to set aside their differences and laugh together.
Uncle Bob had an unusual sense of humor that made being around him a lot of fun. He was in his element whenever he was at a family gathering. He always seemed to end up entertaining everyone with his offbeat comments. When he got going, he would often tease Aunt Pat, which would cause her to respond with her sharp-witted sense of humor. They always ended up laughing and entertaining everyone.
I miss the old family neighborhood with its unique cast of characters.
May he rest in peace.