For Uncle Al
2nd March 2o12
To all my Family,
I have not felt the pain of loss of a parent, or a spouse, but I do know the loss of someone inextricably wound into the fiber and pattern of my life. Someone closer to me than my dear Uncle Al–a childhood friend who did not make it to 40. It is a loss that still hurts.
I did not get to meet my Uncle Al past my infancy or early toddlerhood (at the latest). He appears in none of our home movies, and in precious few photographs. I always have understood how his professional career required him to live in another country most of his–and therefore my–life, but he was *always* a part of the family, actively, just as he still, in a new way, now, is. I wish, now, that we had spent a few minutes every family gathering that he could not attend sharing stories about him, that through hilarious anecdotes I could know him better, now.
My mother, who is a repository of family lore, has one favorite story about Uncle Al, that she often recounts; and I love to hear it, as it tells me so much about him. It goes like this:
At the Camp one summer, Uncle Al volunteers to do the grocery shopping. He returns with the beaming face of a little boy having procured the most awesome vegetable ever: a single head of broccoli, the size of a tree trunk, itself filling one whole paper grocery bag — the big kind. One can imagine him irresistably drawn to the most kingly stalk of broccoli in the world, delighted–while having no earthly idea how inedibly wooden a thing to cook for dinner the thing is going to be.
Smiling happily, having acquired vegetable awesomeness — that’s my Uncle Al!
I did get to hear Uncle Al’s voice on the phone, on one of my recent visits to the Camp. I was closest to the phone when he called for Aunt Kai. We spoke for fifteen seconds, but it was enough–to hear his voice, and to say hi–for it to be a small comfort now: Yes, we talked! How nice that is, how lucky. It makes perfect sense, in retrospect.
I searched my unconscious/pre-conscious memories — ie, I “let go” and just *felt* — just imagine-remembered — any and all feelings and impressions of my Uncle Al. I discovered definite avuncular feelings, fond and goofy, of this same man having chuckled with me, having read me a story, having rescued me from some bit of mischief or trouble that I was about to get into. A smiling face. Now being an uncle myself, to Andreas and Karen li, I know what an uncle’s affection feels like, and I always felt that from my Uncle Al, no matter how absent he was in person, from that time early on, until now.
Maybe, from Peter’s upcoming wedding on, we can use every family occasion from now on to share a few stories about Uncle Al, and about Grammy, and Grampy, and Winn Mayo, and indeed about all our family’s loved ones, and thus to help us all know them better, and love them always in the present tense, not in the past — because I know it will make them all still present with us, now and for ever after.