The Uncle of Our Country

When we were kids, on many occasions on which we might tell my father we wanted something or had done something we thought he’d find amazing, he’d say, “So’s your Uncle Louie.” In later years, after my brother Keith’s children were born and because I used the line on them, they called me Uncle Louie; although, for reasons that remain uncertain, they always pronounced it Uncle Loo-vey. Later still, when my own sons were born, I used the line on them, too. Yet for all the history packed into that expression, I never knew its derivation … until recently.

My friend, fellow BIZCATALYST 360˚ scribe, and intellectual mentor, Yonason Goldson, published a post called, “Visionaries and Ideology: A Study in Contrasts”. It’s about a trip Yonason and his wife took to New York City. In it, of his emotional visit to Federal Hall, Yonason wrote:

“The site of George Washington’s inauguration provided as emotional an experience as the 9/11 museum. Here was a shrine to visionary ideology, not distorted into evil but elevated to the highest imaginable strata of human aspiration. Here, a fledgling nation conceived in the minds of practical dreamers took its incipient steps toward the lofty goals of justice, virtue, and equality before the law in a true meritocracy. Here, the noblest impulses of man forged a society out of shared values that had never been applied, never been attempted, never been imagined beyond the musings of political fantasy.”

Yonason’s musings led me to recall similarly reverent writing about Freedom Hall in Jonathan Cahn’s novel, The Harbinger. (As the anti-spoiler, there’s no way in the world I’m going to tell you what happens in that book. You can find out for less than ten bucks if you have a Kindle.) And all that reverence compelled me to dig more deeply into George Washington and the fateful walk down Wall Street to his inauguration, in Federal Hall, as the nation’s first President.

By Gum

The inauguration processional was led, of course, by George and his wife, Martha. The two of them were joined by George’s brother, Louie, who carried the hatchet with which six-year-old George had chopped down the cherry tree on the property of his childhood home in Ferry Farm, Virginia. Since George was taking a pretty heavy oath that day, Louie brought along the hatchet just in case George might be tempted to … well … you know.

As the processional approached 26 Wall Street, George hawked a huge wad of Juicyfruit he’d been chewing to keep his wooden teeth fresh right out on the sidewalk. Louie spontaneously exclaimed, “Oh, my God, George! That is SO gross! Pick that up right now!” George did as he was told. (Louie didn’t see George stick the gum on the front of a parking meter.) And the rest of the day went off without a hitch.

Though George, The Father of Our Country, had fathered no biological children of his own, Martha had four children from her previous marriage to Daniel Parke Custis. George adopted them and treated them as his own, even though one of them was dead by the time he married Martha, and another one died shortly thereafter. Nevertheless, despite the lack of blood relations, George always introduced Louie to the children as The Uncle of Our Country.

One day, on a journey of reminiscence from Mount Vernon to New York City, George decided to take the children by Federal Hall to show them the place in which his inauguration had taken place. As they approached the steps to the hallowed building, George aimed a sizeable gout of Teaberry toward the gutter, but it fell short and stuck to the curb.

The two children screamed in horrified unison, “Ew, Dad! That’s nasty! We want you to pick that up!”

George replied, “So’s your Uncle Louie.”

The rest, as they say, is O’Brien family history.


Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brien
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.

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    • Thank you, Jeff. Grandpa O’Brien had a million expressions, stories, and songs. But “So’s your Uncle Louie” was singularly my dad’s. One of my Italian mother-in-law’s favorite expressions was, “Basta che non fuma.” Idiomatically, it translated to something like, “As long as they don’t smoke,” or live and let live. And people wonder why I love language. 😉

  1. I am so intrigued if this is how anybody got told why this expression entered your family, Mark? I got a good laugh.

    But there is also a little girl inside of me who so wishes that your father could have said “You did what? That is amazing!!!” or something to that end. Kids so want to make their fathers proud. It is a pity if their fathers don’t know how to feed that little fire that makes the kid want to try even harder next time.

    • Ah, yes, Charlotte. My father might well have been the man for which the phrase, “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” was written. (He wasn’t.) There’s a little boy inside of me, along with the children inside my siblings, who wish our fires had been fed. I managed to make my peace with my father — and, so, myself — before he passed. I’m not sure I can say the same for my siblings. They seem to carry scars more evident than mine. But my father, every inch the product of his own environment, did the best he could. I know he did.

      Thank you for your insight, your thoughtfulness, and your compassion.

    • Thank you so much, Kimberly. In light of your own work, I sometimes wonder if this is my brave, if just following my thoughts and sharing them as they occur is my way of showing up in the world. I don’t know. But I do know I have to do it. And I do know I’ll always be grateful for your appreciation of my work and for our friendship.

  2. Mark, I adore your storytelling. It’s an addictive elixir for sure. This story made me chuckle and is such a great accompaniment to my morning cup of coffee. I’m glad I decided to put off my workout for a bit and read. Although I became so engrossed that my coffee isn’t piping hot. That’s okay, however, I’ll top it off soon.

    Keep the stories coming, Mark. They are indeed a breath of fresh air.

    • Laura, thank you so much. There’s nothing quite so rewarding as receiving compliments from a writer whose work I admire as much as I admire yours. My penchant for the absurd isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (Teaberry?). So, I couldn’t be happier that this story held your interest and made you chuckle.

      Needless to say, there are others in the works. 😊