Celebrating a milestone birthday (l-r) Kevin Ciotta, Betsy Buckley, birthday boy Uncle Bob Ciotta, and Pat Riehman.

As an accomplished, handsome and gregarious fellow, confidence is practically Uncle Bob Ciotta’s middle name. So, I wasn’t surprised that he presumed my next column would be about his 90th birthday we celebrated on our family beach trip to the Outer Banks.

“Now when you’re writing the article Timmy, don’t make it all about me. It should be about how wonderful this family is.” Bob instructed. I interpreted this to mean it should be largely about him but he’s allowing for some creative leeway in the process. Did I mention he’s generous, too?

Indeed, I had planned to write about my favorite nonagenarian. Like me, Bob skillfully married into this family which means we share an appreciation of our good fortunes and never-ending group texts. Whether it’s a party or a crisis, these are the people we want in the room. His late wife Mary Jane was Kristen’s aunt and though she died almost 24 years ago, Bob still gushes about her. Cousin Kevin is their only child and something of a saint with a sarcasm font. He and his dad are a tailored personality fit, particularly as they navigate this phase of Bob’s life.

From certain angles their family can look rather tidy. It’s the two of them, Kevin’s partner Tracy and his daughters, Sophie and Annie. But in truth, they are just one faction of a tremendous extended family that requires the outermost strip of land on the East Coast for volume control alone.

Bob is a gifted storyteller and he relishes the audience the beach week provides him. Someone mentioned they don’t care for gin and that sent Bob back to his time in Colorado with big Jim Douglas (6’4”, big shoulders, played football for University of Denver, the trips up to Leadville and the time they nearly drove off the side of a mountain…) Some forty-five minutes later he gets to the story about the night of too much gin and if you’re lucky, you can hear this one twice in a week.

The night before the birthday celebration, dinner and drinks seamlessly turned into a dance party around the kitchen island, Uncle Bob firmly in the mix. I played Olivia Rodrigo’s “Good For You” (per Margo’s request, of course). But I might have joined in the revelry with some jumpy dance moves of my own. It’s a catchy song! My sister-in-law Betsy compared me favorably to the tube man air-dancer outside of car dealerships…but my skills aren’t the takeaway here.

The point is Bob affectionately calls me Timmy, so I call him Bobby. For good measure we have a 10-year-old nephew nicknamed Timmybobby and an impromptu dance party that includes all three of us can and does happen with this family. Heartfelt toasts at Bob’s 90th came just as naturally. While a photo montage played behind him, waves of love and gratitude rolled in from every corner of the living room. I tried to keep my bit light – I accused him of habitually adding ten years to his age to get people to say Wow – you look great! Bob lives by the Satchel Paige quote “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” I mused: How old would you be if you lied your ass off?

But I also had to tell him how fortunate I felt to get to spend these weeks with him and with that, I choked up a little. Both my father and Kristen’s father died before our kids were born so Uncle Bob’s presence in all our lives means a little something extra. My mother-in-law Pat and Kristen’s Aunt Susie deserve the credit for steering this big family ship, Bob just makes the voyage that much more enjoyable.

So let me be the FIRST to say Cheers, Bobby – Happy 90th. We all look forward to more parties and more stories, even if we’ve heard them before.


Tim Sullivan grew up in a large family in the Northeast and now lives with his small family in Oakhurst. He can be reached at tim@sullivanfinerugs.com.

Tim Sullivan

Tim Sullivan is an award-winning columnist who writes about family life and thinks everything is at least a little funny. tim@sullivanfinerugs.com