Sunday, October 30, 2011

Out of grief came joy

Did you ever sew something with a loose, temporary stitch and then forget about it?
Pull a thread and unravel a hem?

That is what it felt like for me yesterday. So many years have passed since my childhood, since the day I sat at my grandma's table on my Uncle Frankie's lap. He was in his late teens, had a full head of thick, wavy hair. He tried to get me (a preschooler) to eat my chicken noodle soup. He held the spoon in front of me and told me to look away. Then he ate it. After that, it became our game, everytime HE looked away, I gulped "his" spoonful of soup.

He was my mom's younger brother and the only boy among five sisters. Spoiled? Yeah.

We didn't have too much interaction, but I do remember that he gave my dad his old Studebaker when we needed a car; he came to my mom's rescue a time or two, and when he was in his forties and bald, he decided what he wanted to be when he grew up. He became a police officer. He made the rank of lieutenant. He had odd pets, a pot bellied pig and a "depewed" skunk.

He visited me and my family at my home a time or two after I married. My kids were little but they remember him tooling around in a little red MG, experiencing his midlife crisis, probably.

I saw him at Christmas once at Grandma's but our family did not have a close bond. Everytime I tried to take a snapshot he'd cover his face, to keep from having his picture taken.

I spoke to him on the phone a year ago. He said he needed to have an artery opened, and after he got over his painful case of Shingles, he would probably have the procedure. He chickened out and his heart gave out.

In so many ways he made his family proud. He raised three step daughters, but he harbored a shameful secret. He had two children, a boy and a girl from his first marriage, and he was estranged from them. I felt sorry for my cousins whom I barely knew. I always wondered about them, especially after I had a granddaughter whose father abandoned her at birth. That kind of pain is searing.

Yesterday at my uncle's memorial service, I met my cousin, Brenda, and her daughter. We shared a common memory, our grandmother used to stuff us with cookies, although we were never at her house at the same time, that we can remember. As I shared my memories with Brenda about her mom and grandma, I felt as if I was hand stitching pieces of a patchwork quilt together with very large stitches, connecting our memories, as we hurried to wrap it up. Someone pointed her out to me at the conclusion of my uncle's memorial service. I gave her my business card. I hope I hear from her.

Clarence, my uncle's lifelong best friend, almost eighty, grew up on the same street as my mom and her siblings. Once this cracker jack joker started talking, it was as if he'd tugged at a loose thread and let out a hem on my old coat. Memories flooded from him to me as he told me things about my father and mother and grandma that made me laugh, cringe, frown and smile.

Out of sadness and grief came joy, a reconciliation of spirit even if we never see one another again. For a brief hour, I was three, my dad and mom were young; I could hear my grandmother's voice, and after half a century I finally hugged my long lost cousin, Brenda, who seems to be doing well.


Southhamsdarling said...

That was a beautiful post today Linda, about childhood memories. It's surprising if you talk to someone from your past, just how the memories do seem to unravel, just like that thread. I'm glad to know that joy came out of the sadness.

Bookie said...

Glad you could connect with a relative, even if under sad situation. Connections are more important the older we get. You realize that you have an outline for a novel in your uncle's story don't you?

DeanO said...

Beautiful post - family is so important and connecting with family and sharing memories is wonderful

Tammy said...

Very nice analogy, Linda. And a sweet tribute to your uncle. Sometimes I think that's the best we can hope for--for people to smile over the memories after we're gone.

Lynn said...

Linda, you do have a way with words! Lovely post and love the analogy. I'm sorry for your loss.

Debora said...

What a touching story. I think that as we get older, we need to realize how important those stories we carry around in our head are to the younger your Uncle Clarence. We become the link to people's history and help as you so eloquently put it, to stitch the quilt together. Glad you had that nice hour with your family.

Jessica Nelson said...

This is so well-written. You've really captured that strange feeling we have when our memories are stronger than what we presently have. I'm sorry for your loss.
Popped over from Karen's and noticed you love chocolate too. :-)

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Lovely. xo

Pat Wahler said...

There's a familiar ring to this post. Seems like as time goes by, the only time we see people from our past is at funerals or weddings. I wonder why?

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