Raised by a schoolteacher, Richie had no choice but to go to school and learn to read and write. He had no choice, he had to learn how to add and subtract. He had no idea that he was special and in so many ways.
Richie felt things more sturdy than most. It was funny, but I only saw him sad when someone else was sad. Never did he feel sorry for himself and on my very worst days, it took only two words from him to cheer me up, “Hi beautiful.” I did, however, see him mad a few times. When his “Steelers,” or “Pirates,” and he considered them his, were not playing well. He would address them each, by name, yelling at the television set as if they could hear, or write them inspirational letters to get them back on their game. Please do not say anything negative about “his” teams, that would really get him started. Richie even wrote to God a few times when he thought God was off his game. Richie did not know he was special and in so many ways.
We grew up on a farm and Richie was as strong as an ox. He was the hardest worker and his muscles were huge. Pitching manure and tossing hay bails, riding and breaking horses, fixing knives and digging ditches always whistling and singing at the top of his voice. Grandpa, one morning, set Richie to the task of digging a French Drain. Lunchtime came and Richie was nowhere to be found. After combing the yard we finally found him half way across the pasture, still digging the ditch and singing an “Elvis” tune.
He was happiest working. Throughout the years, he had held many jobs. He held a job at Goodwill for thirteen years and then on to others. Richie came to me with a problem. His entire foot was black. My mother, his sister, was a Registered Nurse and was horrified at the sight. Grandmas' side boasted many with diabetes and Grandma's brother had lost both legs from the disease. Off to the Emergency Room and four hours later, after every test imaginable, the doctor finally found the problem. He had been washing dishes at a local restaurant and as the water splashed onto his foot, the dye from his black socks had soaked into his skin. The doctor's prescription was, white socks. Richie did not know he was special and in so many ways.
All of his hard work wave him a ferocious appetite. I'd watch him put away as many as thirteen buckwheat pancakes at one sitting and I'm sure that was not his record. You had to remind him that he needed to leave the table. He ate so many carrots from the garden, that his skin turned orange. No matter what was set in front of him, he would say, “That was delicious, my compliments to the cook.”
Richie was thirty-eight when he learned to drive, my baby sister taught him. I was twenty-three and had not as yet learned. When he learned, boy did we go. We always did everything together. My dates often complained of his “tagging” along. Oh well, Richie was a lot more fun than, “What's His Name.” Looking back, I see that those “Drinking and Carousing” times were dangerous. They landed Richie in Alcoholics Anonymous. I think he really just liked the donuts.
Richie was so handsome, just ask him, but so were all of his friends and loved ones, just ask him. Every woman was beautiful. I think he could see into their soul and see only the good and true. He did have a way with the ladies. On those rare occasions, very rare, that Richie did not like someone. The hair on the back of my neck would stand straight up and I knew; they were not nice people. Richie was always right about that. Richie did not know he was special and in so many ways.
Richie had hopes and dreams like everyone else. He wanted to get married and have children and do all of the things that other people do. Mostly, he just wanted to be loved and he was. Daily, he would say, “Who's your favorite Uncle?” I would say, “Uncle Tom,” and he would tickle me till I gave in, which, I always did, between giggles.
No one knew as many corny jokes as Richie. One of his favorites was, “What's the bread doing sitting here? … Just loafing around!” He must have told that a million times and it still makes me crack up. I can see him laughing hysterically right after the last word was out of his mouth. If you did not laugh right away, he'd tell another. If you did laugh right away, he'd still tell another. Either way you win.
Poetry was his passion. He wrote so beautifully and with such passion emotion. His words comforted, inspired and caused pause. He played referee to our family squabbles and made us forget what we were fighting over by being on both sides. His smile was contagious and the twinkle in his eyes always made you appreciate your blessings. He was the glue that kept our family together. An angel on earth, sent from God to watch over us and help us understand a bit more.
When I learned to ride a bike, he was there cheering me on. Richie taught me how to roller skate, how to see things from different angles, how to trust, how to love and so much, much more. There were so many things that I did not understand until I grew. So many that I still do not understand. I've no idea why bad things happened to good people, I'v no idea why some people are born with certain gifts, and I've no idea why some are happy and others sad. I do know that my life was enriched growing up with Richie as a role model. He was one of those born with a gift. He was able to make every single person around him feel special, wanted, needed and loved. He is one of the wisest men I've ever known. Richie is my uncle, my teacher and my friend.
My Uncle Richie was born with Downs Syndrome. He never knew it and I guess we forgot to tell him. We did, however, remember to tell him, “You are special in so many ways.”