Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Both A Family Member And A Stranger

Joshua and I went over to my parents’ house this evening to have dinner and to see my uncle, who I had not seen in fourteen years.

My uncle looked quite well, I thought—certainly healthier and more robust than I had expected, perhaps because I had prepared myself for the worst—and he seemed to be fairly strong and energetic and vital. According to my parents, my uncle has made a remarkable recovery since his treatments ended in April. I am very happy for that.

As I suspected (and as I noted in April), my uncle had never once visited my parents’ house until today—despite the fact that my parents have lived in the same house for over thirty years. He was not at all self-conscious about this fact, however, and he seemed to be at home, and happy to be present, at my parents’ house, and my parents seemed to be genuinely pleased to have him as their house guest.

My uncle likes my mother’s food, and he does not object to the presence of my parents’ dog (which is good, because the dog runs my parents’ household with an iron paw), and he seems to have settled in comfortably. My uncle will be happy there for the duration of his visit, I believe, and I know that my parents will do everything possible to make his visit as relaxing and enjoyable as possible.

On Thursday, my parents plan to take my uncle into Minneapolis, and drive him around, and show him some of the more notable buildings in the center of the city, but otherwise my parents and my uncle are going to do little else for the rest of the week but stay home and visit.

My uncle was very, very happy to see me, and I was very happy to see him. He said he could not wait until Friday to see my brothers, too, and my nephew, and my sister-in-law.

My uncle tried to joke with me, telling me that every heiress in Minneapolis must be in mourning, knowing I am unavailable, and he wanted to know how many heiresses had set their sights upon me as their intended, only to have their hopes turned into tears. “Zero” was my truthful answer.

My uncle also joked with my father, telling him that he was not surprised that my father lived in the “Library Of Congress, Minnesota Division”, because my father was always a great reader from the time he was a child. My uncle was referring to all of the books in my parents’ home, filling bookshelves in practically every room of the house, including bookshelves on the landing of one of the staircases. In jest, my uncle asked to be directed to the “Russian History” section, and my father told him, truthfully, that he would find the books on Russian history in my middle brother’s bedroom upstairs.

My uncle asked my father how he kept track of books, and compact discs, and LP’s, and how he knew where each item was located, and how he avoided duplication. My father told him that I had cataloged all books and compact discs and LP’s in the household when I was in high school and that, between him and my mother and me, we kept the catalog up-to-date on the computer.

My uncle told me that he could have guessed, fourteen years ago, when I was only twelve years old, that I would be the son who would share my father’s love for history and music. He also told me that he could have guessed, fourteen years ago, that I would be the son who would follow in my father’s footsteps and engage in the practice of law.

Then my uncle turned to my father and he said to him “Boy, I can't help but see how much this one loves you. Do the other ones love you as much as this one does?”

I was miffed at that question, and I jumped in and I answered on behalf of my Dad. I told my uncle “No, my brothers love him even more than I do.”

My uncle and my father did not talk—at least in the presence of Josh and me—about their other siblings, nor did they talk about their parents and their childhoods, nor did they speak about the absence of my uncle’s wife. I wonder whether they talk about these things when they are alone.

We did not eat dinner until 8:15 p.m., out of courtesy to my uncle, who no doubt is still operating on West Coast time. At dinner, I asked my uncle what he was going to do in order not to be bored next week when he will be with us up at the lake. He said that he planned to do absolutely nothing except to try to get to know my brothers and me. I wanted to tell him that we had lived at the same address, and had had the same telephone number, since the day I was born, and that he had squandered over a quarter of a century in which to try to get to know us, but I said nothing.

My mother had prepared a magnificent dinner for my uncle’s first night in Minneapolis. She had prepared a special Norwegian soup made with fresh seafood, followed by a special Dutch vegetable salad in which some of the vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes and beets and turnips, cubed, have to be soaked in special brines for several hours, followed by an Amish pot roast, and cheddar potatoes, and fresh parsnips, and fresh lima beans, and a special tomato salad, and a special apple salad. For dessert, she had made one of her most complicated chocolate cakes.

I hope that my uncle does not expect something this elaborate for dinner every night!

After dinner, my uncle just sat and talked with my parents while Joshua and I cleaned up the kitchen and washed the dinner dishes. When we were done, Josh and I sat and talked with my uncle for a while before it was time for us to come home. My uncle asked me lots of questions about my schooling, my interests, my travels, my career plans and such, and he asked Josh lots of questions, too, about the same things.

It was very, very nice to see him again, and it was even more heartening to learn that he is doing better.

However, it still strikes me as odd that my uncle’s wife did not accompany him to Minneapolis. Further, I find it difficult to understand why he decided that he wanted to attempt to get to know my brothers and me only after having to face serious questions about his mortality. My brothers and I--and my parents, too, for that matter--would all have welcomed the chance to get to know him better long before now.

Nevertheless, I sincerely hope that my uncle has a restful and enjoyable visit with us. I continue to fear that he will be bored out of his mind when we are up at the lake next week.

Late tomorrow afternoon, I must go to Baltimore for a deposition, and Josh will go over to my parents’ house to stay (and he will have my mother’s whitefish for dinner tomorrow night, which I will miss, alas). I return early Friday evening, when my brothers and my older brother’s family will arrive.

I am looking forward to our week together very, very much. I cannot wait to see my brothers, and my sister-in-law, and my nephew. I especially look forward to playing with my nephew on the grass up at the lake.

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