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My Uncle Red

Dead at 44 from Cirrhosis

Stoney’s / Smithton, PA

That’s awfully young, isn’t it?

There’s no good age to die from alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver, of course. It takes a lot of drinking to do it by the age of 44.

Beer. Uncle Red drank only beer.


I was pretty young when my Uncle Red died. He’d married one of my Mom’s sisters. They had three kids.

My Mom’s family was from southwestern Pennsylvania, in coal mine country. She told me that the options for women were to become a teacher, a nurse, or a housewife.

Men in the area mainly farmed, hunted, and worked in factories, mines, or mills.

We went down to my Grandparent’s house fairly often, especially when my Mom’s brothers and their families came in from Michigan.

My Dad, a member of management for a steel company, got stuck hanging out with two union men, Uncle Red and Uncle John. My Dad had serious philosophical disagreements with them, and he didn’t like them much.

As I recall, Uncle Red had a great head of red hair. His voice was quiet, and he was kindly. He sat on the porch and drank beer all day.

As kids, my sisters and I had a lot of people to keep track of - cousins, uncles and aunts, and who was married to whom and which side of the family were they on.

Not a lot of attention was paid to Uncle Red.

This was long ago. Images flicker in the mind.


What I do know is that he died. We were told that he was an alcoholic, and he had something called cirrhosis of the liver.

I think this was the first time in my life that I’d heard that word. Alcoholic.

Little did I know that in a few short years, I’d be on the path to my own alcoholic travails.

One thing I told myself was that I’d get it together at some point. Ignoring the evidence in front of me, I also told myself that cirrhosis was an old man’s disease and that I’d get myself squared away long before that happened to me.

I suppose Uncle Red told himself similar lies.

I courted death in a hundred different ways. Miraculously, I survived, and I found a full-fledged recovery, not by any virtue, but by great good fortune.

I wish Uncle Red had found it, too.

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