Archive for October, 2005

Uncle Tony. I never think of the man, or speak about him, without a smile coming to my lips. Uncle Tony was a “Dutch uncle,” not really a blood relative but such a close friend of the family that you referred to him as your uncle, and we had a lot of those when I was growing up. He went to school with my Uncle Buddy, so I’m pretty sure he was born in 1922 or 1923, and although he never married, I think he was half in love with my mother — he certainly spent enough time at our house. Heaven alone knows why he didn’t ask my mother to marry him, when she was available.

Every Saturday night he’d come for a visit, along with his friend, Bill Roach, who was from Ireland; and he and my parents would talk about everything under the sun, politics, religion, baseball — football wasn’t nearly as popular as baseball back then — oddly enough, I don’t recall anyone ever talking about the job. I’m not even sure what Uncle Tony did for a living, though I think it was something to do with the Parks Dept. of NYC. But what a character he was! I almost never saw him serious, I don’t believe I ever saw him angry, unless his anger took the form of biting humor; and the most serious thing he ever said to me was, “Whatever you do, don’t grow up like your Aunt Mary.” Since I idolized Aunt Mary, I was shocked he would say such a thing; now, I understand all too well what he meant. (More about her on the anniversary of her death.)

When I began working, for reasons I will never understand, he began “dating” me. I never thought of our excursions as dates — after all, he was 25 years my senior — but I don’t know what else to call them. Namely, he would take me to dinner and a Broadway show. I saw more Broadway shows than any young woman has a right to claim she saw: Cabaret, Auntie Mame, Butterflies Are Free, Barefoot in the Park — gosh, I’ve forgotten more than I can remember. We went out about once every two months. He was always very careful of my safety, and I appreciated that, though probably not as much as I should have…. Thinking back, I have to say he was one of the best people I have ever known, one of the most ethical, one of the most moral. I can only think of maybe five other people I could say that about.

Unless you got him on the subject of politics, or the Catholic Church. Like most of us in our part of town, Uncle Tony had grown up a staunch Catholic, never missed Mass, and as his parents aged — he lived all his life with them, till they died — he’d take them to daily Mass before going to work. Vatican II was a catastrophe for him. There was nothing he liked about any of the changes, and he was very voluble on each one of them (and there were a lot of them). His friend Bill Roach finally joined a radical sect of Irish monks whose order stood in complete defiance of any kind of changes. I’m a little surprised Uncle Tony didn’t go along with him.

And politics. We were all Democrats in our part of town, since “the Democratic Party was the Party of the working man,” and as a secretary, I was about as white-collar as it got in our part of town. But what most of us distrusted about John V. Lindsay was not that he was a Republican, but that he had such liberal ideas — expansion of welfare took place in his administration, police power was radically curtailed, and it seemed to all of us that the City began to deteriorate while he was mayor. And no one was more voluble on the subject of that deterioration than Uncle Tony. To be fair, he and all his generation could remember a time when you could ride the subway system at 3:00 in the morning and never fear being molested, and gradually it got so you couldn’t set foot outside your door without risking your life or at least your wallet.

Anyway, Uncle Tony was one of the first to break with the Democratic mold, when he supported Bill Buckley for mayor, who ran on the Conservative ticket. Between that and Vatican II, it suddenly seemed as if anything was possible! He became very well read, and despite never having gone above high school — in our neighborhood, completing high school was an achievement — he could discuss any and all of the great philosophers and theologians, dissect the downfall of New York with a knowledge that could at least have matched Buckley’s, and demolish the arguments of pundits with a wealth of a lifetime’s experience.

As he grew older, though, he became a bit strange. He took to holing up in his apartment, especially after his father died, and reading more and more extreme right-wing publications. At one point, well after I was married, it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t seen him in quite some time, so I asked my mother how he was doing — and she didn’t know. After his retirement, he simply became a recluse. Very occasionally he’d call my mother, but the only person he really saw from day to day was his cousin Joe.

And it was his cousin Joe who, having called for a few days without Uncle Tony’s picking up the phone, found him dead in his apartment. It’s a sad thing to say about anybody that it isn’t known exactly when he died, but worse nowadays, when we know so much about everything, and everyone. Yet, that’s what happened to Uncle Tony; all we can say is that he passed on sometime between October 28 and October 31. It seems such a sad end for someone who was so large a part of my life, and my brothers’ and sister’s, as well. I wonder what he would have made of my becoming Orthodox; I think this faith would have suited him very well, if he had been able to break out of his firm belief in the rightness of the rule of the Pope. I don’t know if he could ever have managed that; but I think of him at this time every year, and today I’ll be able to light a candle for him. It’s the least I can do; my life would be so much poorer without his influence.

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Tag! You’re It!

PhilippaAlan tagged me (I know I should enter her bloglink, but I have no idea how to do that)! I’ve never been tagged before:

Five things I plan or hope to do before I die:
1. Speak Russian at least passably
2. Finish all my cross-stitch projects
3. Get through my stash of knitting wool
4. Learn the basics of painting and sketching, so I can design my own cross stitch
5. Figure out what I want to be when I grow up 😉

Five things I can do:
1. Speak, read and write German fluently
2. Accounting/Bookkeeping
3. Cross stitch and knit
4. Secretarial stuff (which I love)
5. Chant the Church offices

Five things I cannot do:
1. Rollerblade, ski
2. Speak Spanish, nor do I want to
3. Find my way around Boston
4. Travel on high mountain roads
5. Really clean a house

Five things that attract me to the opposite sex:
1. Intelligence
2. Piety
3. Patience
4. Humor
5. Compassion

Five things I say most often:
1. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner
2. Oh for cryin’ out loud….
3. If I had a nickel for every time I saw/did/thought [whatever], I’d be rich by now.
4. See that lady running down the street? That’s me, racing to [buy new product/do latest thing — neither of which I would dream of doing in this lifetime].
5. I wish [one kid or the other] would call.

Five Celebrity Crushes:
1. Sean Connery
2. Mel Gibson
3. Pierce Brosnan
4. George & Laura Bush (together — I think they’re so cute)
5. Hey, I’m lucky I could scrounge up four!!

Tag! You’re it!

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“Like walkin’ in the rain and the snow, when there’s nowhere to go,
And it’s feelin’ like a part of you is dyin’,
And you’re searchin’ for the answer in her eyes.
You think you’re gonna break up, then she says she wants to make up…
The things we do for love!”

I like to listen to Oldies in the car, “great music from the 60s and 70s,” is how this particular station bills itself. I was pretty much out of rock ‘n’ roll by the 70s, so a lot of this stuff is new to me; but I like the way it addresses modern life, even if I don’t agree with much of what it says.

For the past weekend, I’ve had this particular song rattling around in my head. It reminds me of so many things: “Walking in the rain and the snow” reminds me of how my son must have felt when his girlfriend broke up with him, with very little warning, it seems. I think he’s recovering now, but at the time, I think he felt sandbagged. And then, of course, there’s this past weekend, when the whole family is “walking in the rain and the snow when there’s nowhere to go,” muddling around in an emotional fog, trying to come to grips with something that should never have happened — but it seems it happens to quite a few folks. I’m talking, of course, about the miscarriage. Knowing that there’s a whole army of women out there who cherish the memory of someone they knew for all too short a time, doesn’t help at all.

But “the things we do for love….” The hardest part of these past several months, going back to when Ruth and Chris broke up, has been not saying anything about it. Well, yeah, I did vent a bit here, thinking, in my naivete, that it was a “safe place,” since neither of them (as far as I knew) knew about this blog — still don’t know how they found out about it, but I take no responsibility for the flap that ensued. They weren’t *supposed* to know about it, and as far as I’m concerned, I did my best to keep my feelings from them.

But I’m finding that this isn’t going away, any more than the loss of my prospective grandchild will go away. I find myself working at my embroidery and thinking about Ruth, and how much I looked forward to sharing this skill with her, since she professed herself interested in embroidery and knitting. I was really looking forward to sharing a lot of things with her, and now, that’s out of the picture. But I still find myself thinking about it, and gradually I’m coming to realize: I lost something, too, when that relationship went south. I really liked this girl; there was a lot to like.

And now, with the loss of the baby, I’m being asked to put a lid on myself again, not to share in my daughter’s grief, just because I’ve never had a miscarriage. That’s not the point. The point is, this is my child who is suffering, and I wish she’d let me close enough just to cry with her. Then again, this being my daughter, she’s not someone who shares grief easily; when she broke up with her last serious boyfriend before her husband, it was six months before I found out that he had dumped her. She has someone to share her grief with, the most appropriate person of all: her husband.

But I’d at least like to note that she isn’t the only one grieving over the loss of her baby. Chris isn’t the only one grieving over the loss of Ruth. Oh, drat the things we do for love!

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George: 1944-2000

This should actually have been posted yesterday, since he passed on October 7. But this has been a thoroughly stupid week, with all kinds of stupid, pointless running around, and yesterday was no exception.

George and my husband were in high school together, and somehow, improbably, became friends. George was from Brooklyn; Jim is from Queens. (Each borough regards the other as a foreign country.) George’s background was Polish; Jim’s is German and Irish. George majored in physics in college; Jim majored in English. George loved art; Jim loves music. George was a Francophile; Jim is a Germanophile. They used to razz each other mercilessly about George’s predilection for Impressionist art (Jim called it “fuzzy”), and Jim’s sartorial gaffes (I still remember George telling Jim that his orange socks were “so autumnal, they’ll start falling down any second”). George was an anti-war hippie; Jim served in the Air Force.

Improbably, the two became friends in high school, and the friendship lasted — with all its jagged edges and hard places — until the incredible phone call came from George’s wife that he had died. They were out shopping when he said, “I feel a little strange.” Then asked her to take him to the hospital. Then died in the car seat next to her. Turned out he had had a massive heart attack. Yet, just four months previously, he had had a thorough physical and been pronounced in excellent health.

We had last seen him and his wife just a year previously, at our daughter’s wedding. We hadn’t really expected them to come, and were so pleased that they did; we hadn’t seen them for five years previously, though we had kept in touch all that time. When they left to go back home, they promised us the next time wouldn’t be so long, that they’d be up on a fall foliage tour the following year. On our daughter’s first anniversary, we were attending George’s wake.

When he died, he had just retired from New York University and was teaching at a small community college in Queens. At his wake, all his students came to pay their respects, and I heard so many comments about what a truly excellent and caring teacher he had been; and that was new to me too — I had always known George only as a research scientist. On the way to the cemetery, his wife told us about the trip they had taken to Poland to see George’s grandparents’ village, and how George had taught himself Polish so he could communicate with his relatives. My stepfather is Polish, and let me tell you — that is a tough language to learn. But George managed it.

Typical for a Francophile and a scientist of Polish background, his relationship with God was ambiguous: he was an “A&P” Catholic (“ashes and palms”), but his music collection ran to several settings of Masses and Liturgies, many of them Orthodox. He probably subscribed to the “Timekeeper” theory of God, the God Who set everything in motion and then sat back to watch it all spin itself out. I don’t think he ever disbelieved in God; I’ve never met a successful Polish atheist. I sometimes wonder how he’s making out now, but there’s one conversation I would love to have heard:

George once said to Jim that the Italian baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi had written the same concerto 400 times (there are 400 works ascribed to Vivaldi, and they do all sound as if they were written to a fixed formula). I’d love to know what George said to Vivaldi when he actually met him. 😉

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