Robert (my dad), Michael, John and Denise (Vauthier) Cooke; Yarmouth, circa 1950.
My uncle (Winston) Michael Cooke died this morning after being diagnosed with lung cancer late last year. I went to visit him in the hospital last night, and was shocked by how frail and thin he looked. He was barely conscious, but I touched his hand and held it, and said hello. His current wife Louise said he may know that I was there, he may not. But his breathing seemed fairly strong, and I thought he might have some more time left, but as Louise told me later, "He was ready to go."
Mike was the youngest of my dad's siblings. My uncle John, the eldest, died over a decade ago, and now it's just dad and his sister Denise.
Uncle Mike was a terrific uncle (how great a dad he was I have to leave up to my cousins), a real individual who worked as a lawyer, but one who wasn't out to line his own pockets at clients' expense. I recall some repaid his services in deer meat, or renovations on his house. He actually seemed to like helping people, and often took the cases no one else would touch with a ten foot legal journal. He had many friends as a result, and was the one who filled me in on much of my family history, something my father seemed reticent to do. When it turned out that much of my family history involved bootlegging and consorting with gangsters, I suppose I can understand why, but still, that stuff is too good to keep to yourself. It was through uncle Mike that I learned that my grandfather was Gloria Swanson's doctor in Chicago, and was good friends with Hymie Weiss, the head of the Irish mob, and the only man that Al Capone was scared of (Hymie, not my grandfather).
Now all I can think of are the stories I'll never get to hear. Even Mike's own stories about working for the RCMP as an undercover operative in Kingston in the '60s, and the chances he took with his own life as a result. No wonder he quit the force to become a lawyer back on the East Coast.
Now he's gone. He's got two young sons by Louise (Jamie and William, 10 and 11, or thereabouts), who are adorable young boys, and who I hope to be spending more time with in the future. It's funny having cousins that young, young enough to be my own kids in some ways; hopefully I can help them understand what a great dad they had.
Uncle Mike, with my dad, aunt Denise and uncle John
My grandfather William W. Cooke and uncle Mike, in his cadet kit
Uncle Mike in full RCMP motorcycle cop regalia
Uncle Mike with my cousins Joanna, Tristan and Damon