This really must stop. I fully recognize that this is an impossible request, but really: you must stop leaving me.
I’m shattered to report that my uncle, Col. George M. Connell, USMC (ret) passed away yesterday. Appropriately, many of us think, on the 150th anniversary of the shooting of Abraham Lincoln. My uncle was many things, to many people: son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, commanding officer, historian, friend. Many of his friends and former colleagues have commented on his influence in an email thread of his family and friends. I simply cannot match their stories. I cannot do justice to a memorial for my uncle. I don’t have the language to communicate how deeply he, his example, his family have shaped the arc of my life. Anecdotes, then:
- Possibly apocryphal family story: wounded in Vietnam, the telegram arrived at the home of my grandparents, indicating Lt. Connell had been shot “in his Danang vicinity.” We never did learn where on his person the Danang vicinity was.
- When asked about his alma mater, a school in upstate New York, he replied with, “Coyote ugly, those girls were. Rather chew your arm off at the elbow that risk waking them up.”
- Nothing hurts like being punched in the nose by your cousin. Especially when your uncle, on being informed by said cousin that I had hit her on the head with a plastic hammer, tells your cousin to, “March back out there and punch him on the nose.” Liz has always been one to do as told. I was five, she was 7 (I think?)
- Moving a woodpile. Three times. The same woodpile, with the same number of logs, to three different locations (two different houses). Under orders from George. Pretty sure there’s never been a fire in any of the Connell’s fireplaces.
- Helping to move the Connells from Burke, VA to Arlington, surrounded by Marines under George’s command who “volunteered” to help out. They did so with grins on their faces. Pretty sure it was George who invented the term “voluntold”. At least he was the first to perfect its implementation.
- There is no noise in the world like the tearing of BMW and Fiat tires down Outhaul Lane in Burke, VA after Aunt Pat, Uncle George, and Ralph and Ingrid Locurcio left our house after dinner. George and Ralph simply could never resist street racing.
- Driving with George, Kelly-Kelly-Kelly and Liz to drop Liz off at McGill for a winter session, and having my first “legal” beer. Molson Export Ale.
- Best reaction to a setback ever: after being told that, post-back surgery, he shouldn’t drive for quite some time, George went out and bought a Jaguar XK convertible.
- George’s penchant for rescuing Golden Retrievers was laudable, if infuriating to my Aunt Pat. Especially since they always seem to be the dogs with the absolutely worst breath. Beautiful once nursed back to health, but I recall one in particular whose breath could peel paint off the walls. How Aunt Pat put up with this, let alone some of his other quirks of personality, I’m sure I’ll never know.
- Hanging from the roof of Aunt Pat’s and Uncle George’s home in north Arlington, VA, 30 feet above the asphalt driveway, cleaning out gutters full of semi-frozen leaves, twigs and squirrels, and hearing my aunt berate George for putting us in a precarious position. “What? They’ll be fine. They’re young, they’ll heal quickly if they fall. Builds character!”
- Watching him research, write and footnote with painstaking detail his (incomplete) opus on the Battle of Gettysburg. I think he may have had at least as many pages of footnotes as he did actual text.
- Being addressed as “Uncle Sean” by George, and being able to call him “Nephew George” always, always made me laugh.
- Being taught by George and Uncle Donny (have I earned the right to call him Uncle Donny? Catherine, Liz, will need your ruling on this one) how to make a martini correctly at George’s father’s wake. Age 12.
- Being told that the martinis I made for him during our visit to Naples, FL last April were the best he’s ever had. And then having him call up Uncle Donny to boast. Might well be my proudest moment.
George was the best example of what we mean when we say “renaissance man”: student, teacher, author, soldier, father, husband. He was fully human, with all the faults and perfections that this entails. He is the best example of what I strive to become. He is well and truly missed, and I am the richer for having had him in my life, and the poorer for not any longer.