20 May, 2010
I have a lot of traveling planned for this summer - Chicago, LA, NYC, and hopefully a move to Portland - so when my mom called last Thursday and asked me to drive with her and my aunt to LA to see my Great Uncle Harold, I was a little balky. Harold is my grandfather's brother, but Grandpa Ralph died when I was 4 so we never spent much time with that part of the family. I know Harold is elderly and not doing well, but dangit, I wanted to play video games and maybe hit the gym a little (a very little).
But I went because it was the right thing to do, and I knew I would hate myself if I didn't take what could be my last opportunity to see my uncle, whom I remember as a tall, cheerful, funny man with a huge miniature train set in his garage; complete with hills and tunnels and flashing train crossings. These are the things that are important and interesting when one is only six, I suppose.
Here he is with his daughter, my second cousin (once removed), Sheryl. She's everything a father could ask for, and more.
I'm so, SO glad I made that trip.
My uncle is 88 and lost his wife of 62 years about 3 weeks ago. Every time Aunt Marge came up in conversation, his lip would tremble and he would gaze with what I can only call Love at her picture on the wall. Then he would shake himself a bit and say, "We had a good time, Marge and me," and go on telling us some silly story about her entertaining people at his Santa Fe Railroad dinners. Both Uncle Harold and Grandpa Ralph worked for the Santa Fe, as did their father before them. And oh man, did Harold have stories to tell about everyone! I've never been around an elderly person who still had all their memories before, and it was an absolute treasure to hear about my grandparents, great-grandparents, and even great-great-grandparents. We found an old photo album in the closet that contained photos from around 1915 to 1927, and Uncle Harold gleefully pointed out Great-Grandmother Dot's friends and identified their surroundings. It was nothing short of amazing.
And the house! It was like walking onto a set for Mad Men. That house hasn't changed since 1965, and I am in love with it. Aunt Marge had an eye for the interesting, and Uncle Harold's work on the railroad meant he got little gifts from all over the place, so the house is full of amazing little things without being overcrowded.
Uncle Harold told us many stories from WWII. He was in the Coast Guard up in Adak, Alaska, and had great stories about the service for which he made his daughter leave the room. He was also, as you can probably guess from the above photo, a very snappy-dressing sort of gentleman. Only snappy dressers have that many cufflinks.
There was a crazy tree out front of the house that attracted all kinds of nectar-gathering birds:
and an absolute welter of morning glories out back:
I took a much more artsy shot of the flowers, but this one shows how far the vine itself has gone. What's not pictured is the part of the vine that has reached to the trees on the right. I don't think I've ever seen morning glories in bloom before!
Because Harold is elderly and ill, we spent as much time with him as possible without wearing him out. That left me lots of time for working on Val's wedding shawl, which is currently in the binding-off stage, hooray!
I actually had to stop working on it while I was in LA and on the trip home because I ran out of yarn. The swift in the background is set up for me to finish binding off straight from the skein so I don't have to estimate.
All in all, I am thrilled that I got to spend time with my uncle. The family is frankly worried that he won't last much longer now that Aunt Marge is gone, and the opportunity to talk with Harold about his life was invaluable. It turns out my family on my grandfather's side is an old San Francisco family, so we'll be looking them up in short order and getting reacquainted. I look forward to it.