The first time I remember meeting you was when you were working at a gas station in Tampa. My Mom had taken us on a cross country road trip from California to North Carolina for Uncle Kevin's family reunion. I was 8 years old. We'd stopped in Florida to see Mom's other siblings and came by where you worked to see you too. You gave me a big hug, even though I don't think we'd ever met. Sometimes meeting grown ups for the first time is awkward when you're little. But you were so easy to be with. You looked at me when I was talking. You didn't act like I was an annoying little kid. You seemed just as happy to see me as you were to see your little sister. I loved that about you.
You gave me and my brothers Drumstick ice cream cones. When we finished those, you gave us another one. You were the coolest grown up I'd ever met.
I didn't realize that you were a little different. I didn't realize that there were things that other people could take advantage of... your kindness and generosity. I only knew that you were an incredibly sweet man who seemed to genuinely care about others.
You called one day, when I was in high school, to talk to my Mom but, I ended up talking to you for about an hour. I was trying to decide what to do with my life. I told you that my friend's Dad was a recruiter for the Air Force and that I was thinking that the G.I. Bill was a good way to pay for a college education. You proceeded to tell me lots of stories about Vietnam and your experience with the Navy. You talked about how you'd enlisted and where you went, what your job was, and what you thought about it. You encouraged me a lot. You listened. You had time. You were always generous with your time. At a period of time when so many adults just ignored me because I was an annoying teenager, you saw me. I wasn't invisible to you. That meant a lot to me.
I didn't see you very often since we lived on opposite coasts and my family rarely went to Florida. But I remember seeing you the next time I was there (many years later), when your father was dying and being cared for by Hospice. I was pregnant with Matthew. You sat and visited with me for a long time. We talked about Lonesome Dove and you oohed and ahhed over my ultrasound pictures. You looked after me and were always checking to see if I was hungry. "Make sure you feed that baby!" You told me about your Knights of Columbus meetings and talked about cowboy novels. You spent a long time talking to me about your tours of Southeast Asia with the SeaBees because Dave was a SeaBee. You gave great hugs. And you liked feeling the baby kicking. You told me stories about helping your Mom take care of all the babies at your house growing up... after all there were 8 more born after you... and you told me you thought I'd be a good Mom.
After Matthew was born, you called me every week. You were the only person who called me every week. There was something incredibly comforting about those calls. We didn't usually have long conversations but, you cared for me and for my family. When lots of things were busy and hectic because our house was full of several very small people with big needs... you never changed. You were grounding to me. You were dependable.
You kept up with Dave's military stuff. You always remembered his rank (something no one else seems to be able to keep straight because they're not in the military) and always asked how his 2 week annual training went. You remembered how old each of my kids were... and always emailed me right away when I sent you photos of them. You told me that you saved them all to disk. We didn't see you very often, but you loved us.
After Abi was born, I spent a lot of time in doctor's offices. She had been so sick and I had been so sick and we had lots of follow ups to go to. You called one time, just like clockwork, to check on me. You told me that your favorite magazine to read in waiting rooms was Reader's Digest. I said that I'd always liked that magazine too. I told you that the Humor in Uniform section always made me chuckle and think of you because of the stories you'd told me about your experience in the military. The very next week, a postcard came in the mail. You'd bought me a gift subscription to Reader's Digest. The card said "From Uncle Mike to read in waiting rooms." You were always so thoughtful. You remembered things that other people would forget. Every Christmas another postcard would show up from the magazine. I took them to doctor appointments and they stayed on my coffee table the rest of the time. They always reminded me that you cared for me and that I was not invisible.
After we moved to Alabama, you still kept up with us. You checked on us during hurricane warnings and we got to see you when we came to Florida for Aunt Beth's 50th birthday party. Jack was just a baby, only 4 months old, you held him for me for a little while because I was wrangling Matthew and Abi
When we were able to make it to Beth's for the big McNulty Thanksgiving celebration while I was pregnant with Joshua, you were there too. I had been really sick ("morning sickness" was beyond an understatement) and Matthew came down with a bad ear infection while we were there. Abi had been sick and had to have breathing treatments. That was a lot for Dave and I to juggle along with a one year old Jack. While other people were busy, you still saw me. You checked on me and brought me a steady supply of Sprite so that my stomach wouldn't be empty. You always wanted to help. You were always so generous with your kindness like that.
You had many health issues that kept you in my prayers a lot. Esophageal cancer meant surgery that was scary. I was worried about you when I heard about the apartment fire that took much of your stuff and your beloved kitties. I was thankful when your siblings helped you find a new place to live and I was more grateful when they helped you move to Texas so that you could be cared for a little better. I was so happy that you were able to get Monte, the little dog who kept you company. I didn't want you to be lonely ever. The "Good Morning!" emails you sent always made me smile. I'd always chuckle that you signed them from Monte... with "Woof Barks and Puppy Licks to all".
I hate that the cancer came back.
I hate that you were in pain.
I am glad that you weren't alone. I'm thankful that your siblings were able to be with you and let you know that you were loved.
I am glad that you knew that Monte would have a happy home in Colorado with Chris after you were gone. I am glad that your heart could rest a little easier knowing that.
You were the most consistent person I've ever known. Lots of things changed over the course of my life but, you always stayed the same. Ever caring. Ever kind. Ever generous with your time. Ever dependable. Ever faithful. You loved people genuinely and you loved them so well.
My life was richer because of your presence in it.
Already the world is a little more dim because you aren't here.
And I think you're smiling at me, through the little white dog on the cover of the humor issue of Reader's Digest that's sitting on my coffee table. I'll be buying the kids a box of Drumstick ice cream cones a little later. We'll talk about you while we enjoy them.
I know that heaven is a little richer today because that's where you are. And there's no pain there... and you're completely restored in mind and body. But I will still miss you Uncle Mike.
I love you sweet man.
Michael McNulty (July 25, 1946 - September 30, 2011)