Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Psalm 116:15

Antonio, “Uncle Tony,” Sparacino
 October 19, 1925-January 7, 2015
(Photo taken with Sam during a private firehouse tour, 2008.)

Uncle Tony was my favorite. He was Sicilian. Tony Sparacino was married to Great Aunt Bernice, Grandma’s youngest sister. He was my mother’s godfather. Yes, really. Mom had a Sicilian godfather.

Uncle Tony was the one we all hoped would show up at those big family gatherings where we young’uns felt awkward, invisible. Events where we once-removed, loosely-linked second cousins cloistered awaiting merciful introductions from some wise Older One. 

If Uncle Tony showed up, all was well. His kindness and sincerity at once set us at ease. In those smiling brown eyes, his friendly questions and eager listening we felt genuine concern

In that, Uncle Tony was a modern-day Timothy. Of him, Paul wrote: 

I have no one else like him, who shows genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 4:20-21)  

Uncle Tony is why I’m a Milwaukee Bucks fan. It was not a given that this Wisconsinite would be a Bucks fan. The fervor began during Michael Jordan’s reign while we lived in Illinois. But the lowly Bucks, not Da Bulls, were my team. A quarter century later they still are; all because of Uncle Tony’s tickets.  

One winter night in 1988, Dad and I drove up to  Milwaukee. There-in second row, fold-up seats at the old Mecca Arena-I was smitten. How Uncle Tony managed to acquire those seats, and why he chose to give them to me, I’ll never know. But he is the reason I still fall asleep with Ted Davis in my ear. He’s why I don’t turn games off, even when the Bucks are down by 20 with eight minutes left. 

Uncle Tony was a cheerful giver. How he loved to give good gifts. If all the Bucks and Badger tickets he shared didn’t prove it, the Festa Italiana tickets, en masse, did. You let me know if you need Festa tickets, he’d say every summer. Uncle Tony would always give the boys shiny, silver coins when we’d meet for lunch. Or tuck a $20 in my hand, lower his head and whisper, You guys go out and have dinner. 

A devoted career firefighter, Uncle Tony was generous with his second home too. For years after he retired, he’d invite us to tour the firehouse. We’ll get you up in the trucks, he’d say.  

A few years back we finally took him up. My sister, niece and some friends with their kids joined us. The spring returned to his 80’s step as he showed off the house. When the younger firefighters slid down the pole then hoisted us up in the trucks, I don’t know who was more enthralled: the tykes in the trucks or Uncle Tony watching the tykes in the trucks. 

Then, a little over a year ago, the boys and I visited with Uncle Tony and Aunt Bernice at my folks’ house. 

That last time we met for lunch, diabetes was closing in on him and just walking was hard. But we didn’t talk about that much. Uncle Tony steered back to us.  How are you all?  And Jim?  How is your work going?  

Somehow in the course of that conversation, it came up that I hadn’t been sleeping so well. You need some good singing to help you sleep.  That Irish music will calm your mind, he assured. 

A week later Relaxing Celtic Sleep Songs arrived in the mail. 

I don’t know if Uncle Tony knew this Sicilian proverb: Burrasca furiusa prestu passa. 
(A furious storm passes quickly.)  It’s true. A week after Christmas, Antonio J. Sparacino’s pnuemonia landed him in the hospital. But the storm passed quickly. 

On January 7, 2015 the cheerful giver of so many good gifts went home to the Giver of all good gifts.  By God and by us, beloved.

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 

Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 

2 Corinthians 9:6-7


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