Tuesday, March 25, 2014

this strange and lovely thing called family

I can't begin to tell you how much I love this picture.
It came the other day in a rare and unexpected email from a relative, my father's big brother, my formidable Uncle Earle. I say rare and unexpected because he and I are not often in touch directly, though I hear about his goings-on from my mother and I imagine he hears about mine.

But clearly I don't hear nearly enough about his goings-on because the message* that came with this wonderful picture took me completely by surprise. It also managed to make me feel both very, very happy and indescribably sad, all mixed up and at the same time.

When I was a little girl I always loved visiting my aunt and uncle and their magical house of mysteries. But then adolescence kicked in, and then college, and then jobs and bills and all that fun adult stuff, and somehow years go by now in between visits. 

My uncle of the constantly wry expression (due largely but I would guess not entirely to a long-ago medical issue about which I am fuzzy on the specifics), the brilliantly dry wit, and the deep, gruff voice, I confess, intimidated me a little when I was growing up. He seemed not to share my father's innate goofiness and playful laughter, and somehow the fact that he so loved gardening (and the fact that my father so loved him) didn't quite soften the edges I'd built up around him in my head. I began to suspect my childish impressions weren't entirely accurate quite a few years ago, though, and this most recent email is just further proof that clearly I've been missing out on something beautiful.

This picture of Earle -- smiling shyly amidst armfuls of gorgeous daffodils with his beautiful garden spreading out behind him -- momentarily took my breath away. It made me miss my father and his quirky grin with a particular sweet ache I haven't felt in a long time. It made me miss the idea of him growing older, graying, balding, surrounded by daffodils on a first day of spring. It made me crave watching him settle into retirement, into his golden years, with as much gentleness and grace as my perhaps not-so-formidable-after-all Uncle Earle.

I have this fantasy - this idea - of moving west and falling into the warm embrace of these people, this amazing family that sometimes I fear I barely know.

  *"Hi M - this is one of my "art" projects. Delivering 550 daffodils around town to businesses and people I care about. Wish i could smile better.  Hope all is well with you. Love Uncle Earle"

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