My Uncle

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Studio portrait of my uncle, undated, taken in Philadelphia

Monday Morning Musings:

My uncle was a kind man,

with a twinkle in his eye.

Perhaps he would not seem remarkable

unless you knew him, knew that

he was curious, with a love of gadgets–

my mom always talked about that–

his latest gadget, she would say,

after he purchased a camera or computer,

an e-reader, or kitchen appliance.

We sat in her apartment, after hearing the news.

We drank to his memory,

blood red wine,

in bright blue plastic cups

like college students at a party.

We ate brownies, remembering

his love of chocolate—

that love, a family trait, it seems

a dominant gene.

“Didn’t he used to pour chocolate syrup

on his cereal?” I asked my mom.

And she laughed, happy memories mixed with sad.

Then she remembered how excited he was

when their father, my grandfather,

sent chocolate Tastykakes to him in Florida.

Isn’t it funny what we remember?

I think of how I never knew my uncle as a young man,

but I’ve heard the tale of how, when they were first married,

my aunt asked my mother how she prepared a particular dish.

My mom replied that she used “the shit method,”

shocking her new sister-in-law.

My mom then explained that she meant shitarein,

a Yiddish phrase,

a little of this and that

thrown together.

It makes a good story.

It’s strange to think of them all so young and carefree,

children of the Great Depression who learned to navigate

the technology of the twenty-first century.

I learned that my aunt and one, perhaps two, of my cousins

lived in our house in Philadelphia for a brief time

when I was a toddler.

Of course, not something I recall,

Though I vaguely remember the big, old house

in Germantown.

My uncle must have been in Miami,

I suppose to get settled there

before his family arrived.

A big move to a new city.

I remember their house, perhaps not their first,

but both of the Miami houses I remember had sunken living rooms—

a feature that I, as a young child, then associated with Miami,

thinking that all Miami houses must be constructed that way.

Random memories of visiting my uncle, aunt, and cousins—

their little dachshund,

(Was her name Penny?),

my aunt playing the piano late at night,

the music forming a soothing backdrop to my dreams,

swimming in their pool,

playing board games,

and when my husband and I visited

shortly after becoming engaged,

I remember my cousin baking cookies in a microwave oven,

the first one I’d even seen (See: gadgets, above).

I was a young mother when I read

my uncle’s hilarious account of pooping

while sitting out Hurricane Andrew–

sitting, you understand, taking on more than one meaning here.

He and my aunt huddled in that inside corridor–

except for that brief, and necessary foray into the bathroom,

umbrella held strategically—no shitarein story this time, the literal thing.

I wish I still had that letter,

but relieved a bit there were no selfies then.

Only my uncle could have made such a terrifying experience

laugh out loud funny—

in retrospect.

Real-time texts might have revealed a different story.


After the storm,

they emerged to find destruction all around them,

and then the rebuilding began.

Yet their foundation was strong.

Years later,

I remember my aunt and uncle coming to Philadelphia

for my mom’s 85th birthday.

My daughters said, “Uncle Irv smells so good.”

I have no idea what the scent was,

but I think it was his own—

as if kindness and genuine interest

in people and places enveloped him.

We all loved him.

He died as he lived,

gently, without a fuss

with his true love by his side.

A star has gone from our family universe

leaving a black hole

dense with memories

but without the twinkling of life and light.

Perhaps with time,

just as starlight travels

across the vastness of space,

so in our hearts

we will find that light again.




38 thoughts on “My Uncle

  1. You seem to know quite a lot about him, Merril, reading between the lines. I wonder if he knew the Finks? I’m distantly related to Finks in Germantown. An aunt of my dad’s married one.

      • One of my dad’s aunts ( from County Meath) married a Fischer, another married an Edelman, and the Finks were either related to the Edelmans or another aunt married a Fink, but the Edelmans and the Finks were from Germantown. I don’t know much about the American branch of the family.

  2. This musing is both amusing and heartfelt. You gotta love a guy who pours chocolate syrup on breakfast cereal. Once my mother got out some Hershey’s chocolate candy blocks after we ate our Cheerios. She said with a shy smile, “Don’t you think we need a little chocolate now?”

  3. Beautiful snapshot into a lifetime well-lived and a man well loved. I agree that their light shines within our hearts long after they are gone. And how lucky he was to have his true love at his side when he went “to the other side!” We should all be so blessed.

  4. Always so enjoyable to read your memory-journeys. Thank you for sharing your family with us. I loved these lines, especially:
    “I have no idea what the scent was,
    but I think it was his own—
    as if kindness and genuine interest
    in people and places enveloped him.”

  5. This is such a beautiful tribute and memorial to your uncle. I love your description of why he smelled so good. I’m so sorry for your loss, Merril.

  6. I can’t think of any better eulogy than this one:

    “My daughters said, ‘Uncle Irv smells so good.’

    I have no idea what the scent was,

    but I think it was his own—

    as if kindness and genuine interest

    in people and places enveloped him.”

    Beautiful, tribute, full of the sweet, shitty perfume of life.

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