My Favorite Uncle
This piece was originally run in the September 8, 2013 edition of the Post Journal following my nephew and new niece’s wedding, because of the feelings and memories then of my Uncle Sebastian “Busty” Raffa. The need for my resubmitting it for this weekend is even more impactful for me and my family.
At the recent wedding of my nephew T. J. and my new niece Tracy, I got to see old friends, relatives who came from great distances, and to meet some very nice people from Tracy’s “side” of the aisle. One of the best moments, though, was when my favorite uncle got up on the dance floor, with my bride Sally, my sisters- in-law Lisa and Maria, and one of my dearest friends Diane, and I saw his patented wide grin, as for a couple of songs, he was a sheik with his harem, and was rapt in the moment.
My Uncle Sebastian, whom we’ve always called Uncle Busty, has been a staple figure in all of our entire lives. Uncle Busty is in his early eighties and is mentally challenged. As kids growing up, Uncle Busty would chase us around the backyard trying to catch us, whom he referred to as “little fuddy duddies.” He lived with my nanu (grandfather) up until his death, and while he was there, he was the greatest ambulance chaser in the city. Whenever he heard a siren, Uncle Busty walked until he found it. To this day, he has a scanner and listens to the calls and can always tell someone what, where, and when something is happening that may require a policeman, a firefighter, an EMT, or an ambulance.
My Uncle Busty came to live with us after nanu passed (1970, I believe) as my mom (his sister) and my dad owned a two family house and set Uncle Busty up in the upstairs apartment. He ate meals with us, he came to all of our family functions with us, and he was a part of our family, more than just being a relative. He did everything except go to fireworks shows, as Uncle Busty did not like the noise of the pyrotechnic performances.
As we grew up, pursued, and later carried out our careers and individual lives, Uncle Busty was there. He shared our graduation parties, our marriages, the births of our children, and now their weddings, and the births of their children.
With the growth and development of the Resource Center, around 1971 or so, Mom got Uncle Busty into the Center’s Development and Employment program, and Uncle Busty had a job and suddenly went to work on a daily basis. A couple years ago, Uncle Busty was recognized, as he celebrated his fortieth year as a participant at the center.
While living with us, and even after he “moved out” (more to follow on this), Uncle Busty stayed informed on what was happening in the nation, and the city, through watching the news, listening to his scanner, and reading the newspaper, though his reading abilities are somewhat limited, but he does read. At the recent wedding he was wondering if I lost my position writing this weekly column, as he couldn’t find it for a few weeks. He said he didn’t see my picture anymore and wondered what happened. I jokingly told him to stop looking for my picture on page two of the paper, where the list of the dearly departed appears.
Uncle Busty has always loved music and has gone through hundreds of records and a phonograph, to a cassette player with hundreds of tapes, to a CD player with hundreds of CDs. He loves the music of the 40’s, the Big Band Sound. He loves television, especially old time television and has gone from having his own TV and VCR and hundreds of Video Tapes and has transformed into the age of DVDs and a Disc Player with now hundreds of DVDs to keep his love for old time TV and movies alive.
As the Resource Center grew into the establishment of Group Homes, and Mom and Dad getting older themselves, Uncle Busty was accepted to be a resident in one of those homes and has been in one ever since. While there he has taken many trips, expanded his collection of DVDs, and still listens to his scanner regularly. His age and not-as-young-body has limited him as to what he can do at the center, so I guess you can call him semi-retired, semi because he still shows up part time and finds someone to talk to or something to do.
When Mom passed away, six years ago, Uncle Busty was very saddened, but that didn’t mean he was going to be any less a member of our family. He still attends family get-togethers and shares holidays with us. Many of our own grown children talk about Uncle Busty when they get together, fondly remembering him calling each of them “little fuddy-duddy” as they were growing up.
In recent years, age has crept up on Uncle Busty, but he stays very active. He has “dated” and even contemplated marriage. Yes, his activities at the center have slowed a bit, due to his age and health, but he still seems to love being with family, evidenced by the grin on his face while cutting a rug with four (slightly older than when they first met Uncle Busty, but still beautiful) girls on the dance floor.
When having to go where he has to walk substantial distances, Uncle Busty needs to be assisted and use a wheelchair, making his recent imitation of “Dancing with the Stars” that much more memorable.
Throughout my life, I have heard the misuse, and abuse, of the word “retard.” It is one of the things that makes whatever hair I have left on my head, bristle. I would get angry with my students who did it, my players who did it, and I still get angry when I hear others use that word in the context that they do. I only wish those who misuse and abuse that word were half the person that is Uncle Busty.
Uncle Busty, at age 87, passed away this past Tuesday. He was the last of four children and now joins the full family reunion with his mother who died shortly after he was born, my Nanu, Frank, my mother Mary, and my Aunts, Rose and Carrie, in heaven. He doesn’t have to chase those police sirens, or ambulances, or fire trucks any more, he can just look down and know exactly from where they are coming. He no longer has to watch those Black and White videos of his favorite actors and actresses, or listen to those records with his favorite singers and musicians, he can just talk to them when he runs into them “upstairs.”
I am so glad my children, and my nieces and nephews had the chance to know and love Uncle Busty. I feel bad for my grandchildren, my great nieces and nephews, and my great-grandson, who never got to know Uncle Busty, some never even meeting him, due to the distance between their homes and Jamestown.
I do wish, on behalf of my family, to thank all involved with the Resource Center and their residence homes for the love and care you all gave Uncle Busty. And from all of us “fuddy-duddies” left behind, Thanks, Uncle Busty, for the memories and for being such a special person in our lives.