Mom called me a few hours ago to relay some news, my uncle died. I asked when and she told me that it happened last Thursday. Being my normal prickly self I asked if the family had used the pony express or pigeons to notify us. After all, he had moved back to Chicago, so maybe, just maybe that would explain the delay in hearing about his passing.
No, he died here in Los Angeles about eight miles from my house. He died at the same hospital as his older brother did, my grandfather. He was 90 and he had leukemia, but I am not sure what the cause of his death was. I don’t know a lot of details. The lack of details here are the kind of thing that drives the Shmata Queen crazy.
But I have a good reason. Midway through the call Mom’s cell phone cut out. Gone, goodbye, straight to voicemail. The last thing I heard was my nephew yelling for Grandma to say hi.
A nephew that my uncle didn’t know. He didn’t know because he was estranged from the family. It feels a bit weird to type that out. We’re not that family. We’re not a family that has secrets. We’re not a family that hides things or has weird fights and relationships that go back a thousand years.
At least that is what I thought growing up. Funny how as a kid you just accept things. Or how many things you don’t question because they are what you know.
Relations between my uncle and my parents were strained, but I am not sure that any of them really knew why. I can provide some details about what upset my parents. And I can speculate about my uncle, but that is all that it is, speculation. He took those reasons right or wrong with him.
My uncle was a 90 year old gay man. He grew up in a time and place in which his sexuality made life very difficult for him. I give him a break on some things because that had to be hard and unfair. But then again I grew up with his big brother, my grandfather as one of my role models. I knew his sisters well. And I know that he was taught that life isn’t fair so you do what you have to do.
It is not always nice and it is not always fair. That is just how it is.
I have a lot of memories of my uncle coming for family events. He used to bring his best friend Phil with him. I thought that it was cool that they got to live together and share a room. I didn’t know anything beyond that just that they were best friends.
My uncle was the last of his siblings. And now that he is gone I feel a loss. I can’t really say that I miss him. We didn’t really talk, haven’t seen him since my grandfather died. But I realize now that I liked knowing that he was around. I liked hearing the family stories. He didn’t look exactly like grandpa, but there was a resemblance. And of course expressions and gestures.
My uncle has died and with him the last piece of that generation on my father’s side. I feel a loss. There are no more witnesses to those stories. No more who lived to see those things. No more tales of my great-grandfather to be told by his children.
For some reason it makes me feel a bit older. A few hours ago I received a note on Facebook. A friend of mine posted a picture of me from my Bar Mitzvah. I remember taking that shot. It was a few minutes before we took a family photo, with my uncle and a bunch of other relatives.
If I look up I can see my reflection in the kitchen window. I swear that it is a bit blurry, so I squint and see the thirteen year-old boy I was metamorph into the 40 year-old man I am now.
It is a different world than it was.