yesterday morning, my uncle passed away. The strange thing was that both my brother and I had planned trips in to see him this week, but wrenches were thrown into the plans and, well, here we are.
He was the husband of my father's favorite sister, and I remember him as a quieter man in a family of boisterous people. He was a Rabbi, and his children grew up with higher education - doctors, lawyers, executives. I remember him as a man who's heart was bigger than whatever vision he had for what his family configuration should look like. At some point, and for reasons that were never explained to me, my family went to live with my aunt & uncle. all 4 of us. all of our clothes and toys and beaten down hopes and insecurities. jammed into a 2 bedroom-and-a-den ranch house in Rochester, NY with my aunt, uncle, and their own 3 kids, 2 boys and a girl. doubling and tripling up. to this day, i have no idea where my parents slept...where my cousins slept. (but i do remember the address and phone number.) and if this was a problem, it was not apparent to us kids. we were young, but at an age where little pitchers have big ears, and i don't ever remember hearing voices raised with requests of moving your gypsy family out. i remember those years as some of the best in my life. it's where i went to kindergarten. and accidentally broke joan's violin, and met bobby and michael, and learned how to catch crayfish down by the stream and shoot crabapples from a high window of the rubin's house and developed a mad crush on my cousin's friend, and on my cousins. so many good things. because my uncle agreed to let our family come stay. what discussions went on - i'll never know. but the point is that when we most needed my aunt & uncle to open their house, they did. their hearts were already open - they always were. they didn't say Oh, That's Terrible, I Hope Things Get Better. Call If You Need Anything. They knew we needed, and they squished and squeezed and shoehorned till it worked. and everyone acted as if it was the most normal thing. i don't ever recall bad behavior on anyone's part because of the inconvenient and difficult extended company. And I was not an easy kid.
I got a chance to thank my uncle 2 years ago. I went to visit him in his new assisted living residence. I toured the building with him, and we talked about all the original artwork on the walls, and in his room. we talked about nothing and everything. it was the fullest few hours i have lived recently, and the most difficult. it took me back to the place where family stood solid together...where my cousins were my brothers and sisters and babysitters, and family reunions brought everyone together for steamed clams and photos. And it punched deep in my heart that my family had been estranged from all that for 30 years. i felt like i had been drifting, untethered. my mom's family had all passed away. and time had stolen the link to my fathers family. and here before me was my uncle. and i am grateful for the opportunity that i had to visit with him, but most grateful for being able to tell him Thank You for opening the doors of his house...that no one had ever properly thanked him, i suspected, and that there was no possible way to fully express what needed to be said. when i turned to leave, he had tears in his eyes, and there was an awkward moment, but it got said.
It is my bet that the sanctuary of the temple will be standing room only and down the block. i talked to my cousin last night, and she was amazed at the people who's lives were touched by him - all generations. he was a man of quiet greatness and i am a better person for knowing him.
thank you Uncle Aaron.