Spring has become the season of loss. Four years ago we lost my first cousin Celine. This year we lost Uncle Joe.

My mother’s younger brother, Joseph N. Sestito passed at age 91 after leading a “storied and adventurous life,” as my son so accurately phrased it.

A Catholic priest and a decorated Navy veteran, he inspired the priest in my political thriller, THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, who tells Luz de Maria that he cannot give her absolution if she wishes to commit the same sin all over again.

My grandfather always called him “Sonny,” which led to the character of Sonny Zambrano in the Galliano Club historical fiction series. In REVENGE AT THE GALLIANO CLUB, Sonny recites “The Cask of Amontillado” for a speaking contest, the same as my uncle did in the real 1949 Slingerland Speaking Contest. 73 years later, he could still recite Poe’s classic from memory.

Uncle Joe was ordained a priest in 1959. It should have been earlier but, ever the jokester, he was booted out of his first seminary for rolling a bowling ball down the hall of his dorm and hitting a teacher’s door.

After a few years as a parish priest with the Ogdensburg diocese in upstate New York, he joined the US Navy as a chaplain. Uncle Joe served with the Marines in Vietnam, for which he was awarded the Bronze Star with V for valor. Among other duty stations, he served in the Aleutians and aboard the nuclear-powered USS Bainbridge.

After retiring, he resumed parish duties in upstate New York and jumped into high-end woodworking. We all have furniture, lamps and trays that he made. Everything is finished in the same mid-tone stain with quirks reflecting the maker’s impatience. For example, my gorgeous reeded buffet lamps have plugs but no switches.

Uncle Joe was a never-ending font of genuinely funny jokes, magic tricks, and tall tales. His vocabulary was prodigious, he was annoyed by sloppy diction, and he knew the basics of at least a dozen languages. He played the piano and the saxophone, delivered a mean sermon, and was a terrible driver who named all his cars.

He was the wonderful and funny Uncle Joe to me, my siblings and my cousins, and how rich our lives have been because of him.

Uncle Joe playing the piano with my son (who is now 31.)

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