I had an uncle, who was really my dads first cousin, but because he was so much older, my brother and I called him Uncle Jerry.
When I was 16, he had an embolism in his leg, so the doctors had to amputate from the knee down. He ended up living in an assisted living facility.
When I finally got a car, my brother and I would go visit him.
The first thing he did when we walked in was ask us to take him outside to the front patio.
“Merry T, give me a cigarette,” he’d ask me.
He wasn’t supposed to be smoking, but then again, neither was I. The only difference was, I had youth on my side. My first signs of smokers cough were years away.
“No, I won’t take part in your delinquency,” I’d say back, trying to stand my ground.
But then he would give me a hangdog look, and I always ended up giving in. I’d sigh, then hand him a Marlboro, and my lighter. He had always smoked Camel non-filter, which I could never understand because how did he deal with having bits of tobacco in his mouth?
The look on his face when he took his first drag was pure bliss. I was probably the only person who visited that ever gave him one, and he knew it.
“You’re a good girl” he’d say, and then we would bullshit for a little while.
He moved to another facility, and although we talked on the phone semi-regularly, I never visited him because of the distance. Our last conversation was about how adding sparkling water to juice was the bees knees.
He died in 2005. I didn’t go to the funeral because I didn’t have a sitter for my daughter who was still little at the time. I mourned the loss of my “uncle” at home, thinking about all of the good memories that I had of him.
One of his nephews found a card that I had made him when I was a kid. He gave it to my mom, who then gave it to me. He had kept it all of those years. Now, it’s in my lock-box.
He was a wonderful man with a heart of gold, and a lovely sense of humor. He always let me be myself, and I loved him for that.
I know that enabling people isn’t the right thing to do, but I don’t regret giving him those cigarettes.