Both of my parents had several uncles. My father had four – his father had one brother and his mother had three. Uncle Joe Perk, his father’s brother, was the only uncle who was not born in the U.S. Born Jozef Piontkowski in Warsaw, Poland, he opted for the shorter surname “Perk.” The three Bergmeister uncles were Joe, Max, and Julius. He saw these three uncles more frequently growing up, especially Uncle Max who owned a candy store. As you can imagine, having an uncle with a candy store made my father the envy of most of the neighborhood children.
My mother had six “natural” uncles – four from her father’s side and two from her mother’s (and three more through marriage!). Her father’s brothers were Louis, Eugene, Water, and Victor. Uncle Victor was my mother’s favorite, and she was devastated when he died at a young age. My mother was only 15 years when he died in 1951; he was only 32. Her uncles on her mother’s side were Uncle Charley and Uncle Stanley. Though they were brothers, they also used different surnames much like my father’s father and uncle. Uncle Charley used his actual name, Kazimierz or Casimir Zawodny. His brother Stanley changed his last name to Zowney.
Hearing my parents talk about their uncles always made me want to have one, but both of my parents only had one sister each. I don’t have any “natural” uncles! But that doesn’t mean I grew up uncle-less – fortunately, both of my aunts provided me with uncles through marriage. Uncle Ken entered my life when I was 11 years old – I’ve already told a few stories about him in a tribute to my aunt. Uncle Ken was everything I could ask for in an uncle since he had a great sense of humor and was always ready to have an interesting conversation with me. We shared many fun times with my aunt, especially on my visits to their boat when we’d cruise along the Delaware River and enjoy sunny days and each other’s company.
My Uncle Stan married my Aunt Jean before I was born, but much to my regret they were not much a part of my life until I was in my 30’s! We try to make up for lost time though, and he is always ready to help me in any way he can. He’s also ready to share advice, good stories, and a bottle of wine – in short, another uncle with all the qualities anyone would want in an uncle!
Besides uncles related by blood and those related through marriage, there is also another category – uncles by circumstance. Such was the case with a man who was a big part of my childhood and teenage years, Frank. Regular readers have already seen a photo of my dad and his best buddy Frank, so you know that this was a guy with an extraordinary sense of humor. I never referred to him as “Uncle Frank” – in fact, I called him “Mr. S*****” until I was an adult. But he and his wife were such good friends with my parents and I saw them so often that I think of them as my uncle and aunt. Besides keeping me me laughing for so many years, my “uncle” Frank also taught me much about our Catholic faith and how to live a faith-filled life.
Even though neither of my parents had a brother, I’m grateful to my aunts for giving me uncles and to my parents for giving me an adopted uncle. I’m proud to have had these three great men in my life! Everyone needs an uncle, so if you don’t have one through birth or marriage, find a great guy to adopt as your uncle – you’ll be glad you did.
[Written for the 70th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Uncle, Uncle!]