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  • I’m a walker. I love to walk. Whenever I travel, one of the things I love to do when I get there, is go out for long walks around the new place, to get the lay of the land, get the feel of the place. When I’m at work, I love to go out at lunchtime, and just walk around the city, whenever I can.

    I’m also a dreamer. By that, I mean, I dream epic, multi-color dramas that I usually can’t remember a damn thing from upon awakening, but I like to try to remember them. Sometimes I do, but most times I only remember a fragment of the dream, but I might embellish on the fragment as I try to recall this incredible saga that unfolded while I slept.

    I tend to think about my dreams when I walk. I mull through them, trying to pull on the threads of dream residue still floating around in my conscious mind, and follow the thread back into the dream, trying to recall what exactly it was all about. I’ve always just done this, without a whole lot of thought about why or when this practice got started with me.

    A recent on-line reunion of sorts, with a bunch of cousins, precipitated by my story about my namesake, Grandfather and Godfather, Big Pete Egan, got folks to talking about another family figure I’ve probably never written about, but who definitely warrants a story or two. That figure would be Uncle Jack. As I read through the thread of comments, and thought about the old boy, the lightbulb went on - Jack’s the one who taught me to think about my dreams while I walked!

    He was actually our great uncle, but we always just called him Uncle Jack. He was Big Pete’s little brother. Jack spent a good portion of his life working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. As the story goes, when he retired, they gave him his entire retirement in a lump cash sum. Weeks later, he showed up at the doorstep of his brother Pete’s house in Pittsburgh, flat-assed broke but smiling like he’d just won the lottery. He didn’t have a pot to piss in, but he had did have a big, shit-eatin’ grin on his face. Whatever he did with that wad of money had certainly made him happy. Now, here he was on his brother’s doorstep, without a plan or a care in the world.

    No wonder Pete always seemed so pissed off! The word is, he was furious with Jack, but he was his brother, so he invited him to stay with him and his wife, Helen. Helen was already fit to be tied by Pete’s inveterate drinking, and now she had to put up with his good-for-nothin’ brother! Pete and Helen never seemed to be very happy, but Uncle Jack was always a jovial old chap, always more like one of the kids than one of the adults. The little kids just loved Uncle Jack. As you got older, into your teens, you would hear how little the adults respected Jack, and you would start to feel like it wasn’t so cool to hang out with him.

    I remember his little room, down at the end of the large dark hallway on the second floor of the old house on McPherson Boulevard in Pittsburgh, right beside the “secret” back stairway that led down to the kitchen from the second floor. He had a box full of Mexican Jumping Beans on his desk in there, just about the coolest thing you ever saw. These beans would actually hop around in that box. Uncle Jack always had time for the kids, and was one adult who just never seemed to have a care in the world.

    The best part about Uncle Jack, for me, were the walks. Whenever he came to visit, which was usually whenever Helen and Pete came over – you never saw them without him, and vice versa – you would inevitably wind up on a long walk with Uncle Jack. He just loved to take walks. When you walked with Jack, you never paid much attention to where you were going, or what was going on around wherever you were walking. Walking with Jack was like walking into a different world. Jacke told stories when he walked. Funny stories. Half the time, you didn’t really understand what all he was talking about, but the way he laughed when he got to the funny parts, you couldn’t help but laugh along with him. He got such a kick out of telling his stories.

    But more then the story telling, he was a good listener. He had an ear for good stories. He always asked about what you were up to – did you have any girl friends, what did you like to do, and always, always, he would ask about your dreams. Jack was big on dreams. He would ask you about them, and if you only remembered a little part of a dream, by the time you started talking about it, and the way he really listened, asking probing questions, why that dream would just come unraveling right out of your brain, and before you knew it, you were remembering the whole damn thing. It was like some kind of magic the old boy had, of conjuring up the memory of the whole dream like that. Looking back on it, I think he just had such a flare for fantasy and wonder, that you made it up as you walked along. The embellishment of the dream made for a great story, and before you knew it, you had a fantastic dream story to tell!

    I fell out of touch with Uncle Jack when we moved away from Pittsburgh to Connecticut, and then I joined the Navy. He wound up outliving Pete and Helen, my maternal grandparents, and lived for awhile in the downstairs apartment of my cousins, the Pampenas, the family of my mom’s youngest sister, Patty. (She was always one of my favorite aunts). He shared the apartment with their grandfather on the Pampena side, but they were apparently as different as the Odd Couple, and he eventually moved out into a boarding room in Wilkinsburg.

    My brother Brian, and cousins Marcy and Rick took turns looking in on him, making sure he was o.k. , maybe bring him by a six pack for dinner and play some checkers or chess. Brian would often spot him out on his walks, far away from his apartment, as he made his rounds in his Bell Telephone truck. He’d pick him up and bring him back to his apartment, which just tickled Jack silly. Brian had always been one of Jack’s favorites, and he bestowed on Brian a nickname he’s still fond of, “Boston Blackie”, though Brian was a redhead. Everyone else called Brian “Red”, but Jack always called him Blackie.

    When Jack died, it was the morning newpaper delivery boy who first found him on his front porch– a paper boy’s worst nightmare! When it turned out that his estate wouldn’t cover all of the costs of his burial, at least not right away, “Boston Blackie” was proud to pay for it with a credit card, making sure the old dreamer had a place to lay his head for his final dreamwalk.

    Whenever Brian drives by the cemetery where Jack now rests, he still calls out, “Hey, Uncle Jack, Boston Blackie says hey!” Old Jack might not have been worth a lot – but, from what I’ve learned of life and dreams, he was a rich man, indeed, and still lives on in the hearts of all the kids he touched with his free spirit, and this kid, whenever I walk and think about my dreams.
    Pictured – Big Pete, Little Pete, Uncle Jack, Mom, Brian, Dad, Grandma Bridgeman, Great Aunt Margaret. Circa 1962
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