I’m feeling off today, and it could be because of the rain that has settled into our New England bones, or it could be because it’s the end of the school year, but it’s probably because I have an uncle dying in California.
Uncle Eric has lived in California for as long as I have known him. Here’s what I remember about him:
When he came to visit, my other uncle came to visit, too, and suddenly I would have a gang of cousins to play with and a couple of aunts who smiled a lot.
Uncle Eric was the first person in my family to meet the boyfriend who would become my husband. The three of us had dinner in a hotel and emerged into the lobby at the same time the Barbie Doll convention across the hall released it’s participants – I’d never seen so many long, blond, plastic hairstyles (both men and women) in one place.
Uncle Eric brought each of my boys a model of a Vespa after a trip to Italy with my mother.
At my wedding Uncle Eric played bartender and there’s a picture of him pouring wine looking like a mad scientist. A brown cigarette hangs out of his mouth and he’s pouring with style.
Uncle Eric nearly cried while telling stories about his brother, David. Not every story. Most stories about David made him laugh to remember, but some of them made him choky and thick in the voice.
Uncle David died long ago and mostly I remember him chasing all of us cousins around the house in Chiltonville, which was already haunted with ghosts of cats and people in paintings.
Uncle Eric would disappear in the mornings when he visited my parents. We think he’d make a circuit of places he remembered, places that housed residual emotion for him, and he’d come back with coffee and newspapers. “Catch up with the day,” he’d say as he’d spread three or four papers across the table on the deck.
Last time we were all together – aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, first cousins once removed – I wished we’d had a voice recorder whirring while we talked. Now I wish it even more.
At my rehearsal dinner, where most of the guests belonged to my husband’s family, he and I chatted about the sparsity of Engstroms. “There’s not a lot of us left,” he said. And raised his eyebrows sharply. But also smiled.
Uncle Eric, I love you. You were a man who kept striving for more, and I admire that. I hope you recognize your life was a rich one. I hope your death is a peaceful one.
Love, your niece.