In the late 1960's, I was living in Brooklyn
with my family. We always had strange
people over, some family and some friends. Uncle
Cooney was my favorite. We were living in Little Italy
, and when Uncle Cooney came over, it always meant that my brother and I would get to go to the ice cream
parlor down the block and stuff ourselves.
When I was older, I looked back and remembered some interesting things about Uncle Cooney. Whenever he entered the ice cream parlor, space was always made at the counter for us. People treated Uncle Cooney with a lot of respect (or fear). He was never handed a bill for the ice cream my brother and I stuffed in our faces, but he always paid with a crisp $20 bill with no change (note: in 1968 ice cream cost about 25 cents). After we ate, Uncle Cooney would tell jokes in his husky voice and entertain us by putting the lit end of his ever-present cigar in his mouth and smoking it. This always amazed us, and is the strongest memory I have of Uncle Cooney.
My brother and I wanted a picture of us together, but Uncle Cooney was adament that there would never be a picture with all of us in it. We were confused, but you didn't talk back to your elders in those days.
Years later, I was talking to my Mom about Uncle Cooney. She shed light on a few things. Uncle Cooney was in love with my Mom, and when she married my Dad he always looked out for us. The reason he would not allow us to be in a picture with him was because if a picture ever fell in the wrong hands, my brother and I could be taken by Uncle Cooney's enemies. He was a Hitman for the mafia before Castellano's reign. It totally amazed me that he could be such a great guy to us and kill others without remorse. He was prolific and very accurate. He died of a heart attack many years later, and he was never caught or convicted. Personally, I will always miss the Uncle Cooney that showed up once a month at our house to spend time with us kids.