Monday, April 21, 2008

Alexander the Great

I remember fondly the times when my Californian aunt would return to the fold to visit us in our humble little suburban rancher. I felt as though royalty had descended upon us - I didn't know why she would deign to come, but I was sure thrilled when she did. From many an afternoon in the beauty salon with my mom, I had been indoctrinated in the ways of Hollywood; so to me, my aunt was the personification of all things movie star glamourous.

She was a prairie girl who had escaped the confines of small town living, and was making up for lost time. For lounging around the house, she wore kitten-heeled slippers with pom poms on the toes, for her bedtime routine she had flowing chiffon peignoir sets. She had a train case (remember them?) full of lotions, potions, and perfume. She was the epitome of style.

Now? She's 86, and I'm beginning to refer to her as The Messenger of Death.

Because every time she calls, it's to tell me about another relative who has passed. She, as the oldest living sibling of the clan, has had this position foisted upon her. Yesterday, she called to tell me about the passing of my weird and wonderful Uncle Alec.

To the outside world, my uncle was somewhat of an eccentric hermit. Sure, he lived the front half of his adult life in a socially "normal" way - as a family man with wife and kids. But eventually, the girls grew and left home, his wife divorced him, and the second half began. He chose to live alone, in a monastic outbuilding on his farm, with his herd of cows. He was very skittish in public places; from what I recall, he did not do well in crowds, and outwardly appeared to be brusque. Terse. Dismissive.

But to those of us who really knew him, he was none of those things. He was a fraternal twin with my Uncle Bob, and they could not have been more different from each other. Bob was lithe and quiet, Alec was solid and chatty. When the two of them were in a room together, it was only a matter of time before Alec's incessant chattering would drive Bob out. How they shared a womb for 9 months defies medical explanation.

When I was around 11, we went to spend part of a summer with Alec and his wife. Throughout the time we were there, I followed Alec around like a puppy. Farm life was novel and exciting to this city girl, and I think I badgered him with questions from dawn until dusk. He never lost his patience, and he always answered me with respect and thoughtfulness. Perhaps he had a soft spot for me as I was the only other relative who could keep up with his jabber, word for word. I could not get enough of this guy.

I was growing up with a father who barely spoke, and never revealed anything at all about his years of childhood. In sharp and exciting contrast, Alec was an open book, who would ramble on about his experiences on the farm as a boy. No question was too intrusive or prying. I was exhilarated.

Alec was a fisherman, replete with cabin on the lake, and instilled in me a love of fishing that I still have today. He taught me about boat safety (be careful, but don't be nuts), how to start a motor and drive the boat(don't go too fast or you'll stall), and where to find the best conditions (deep and still waters work best) . In retrospect I see that, in his basic prairie way, he was teaching me a lot more than fishing. Because as we're all aware, rod and reel enthusiasts or not, here is an activity teeming with metaphor. I regret not having more time out on the water with him.

A few days ago, the fine words of Blog Antagonist caressed over the notion of windows - how if we were to look through the windows of people's lives, what would we see? What interior events would be illuminated so that we could observe some soul-shaping moments?

This concept, together with my uncle's passing, has that one thought looping over and over in my mind - how one person's life can be perceived so differently from two groups of people - those on the outside looking in, and those who have the privilege to already be on the inside, sharing the weird and wonderful with love and understanding.

And, while it's easy enough to look through a window, it may ultimately be far more worthwhile to search for the door.


Mental P Mama said...

What a wonderful testament to a complex man.

Asthmagirl said...

A very insightful post...
I wonder if the analogy couldn't be applied to blogging...?
What we reveal in this window view, vs what we are like in the eyes of those inside our world...

MommyWizdom said...

What a great post! Thank you for sharing such a sweet story. Windows, indeed! My condolences for Uncle Alec.

Baroness von Bloggenschtern said...

Countess MPM: Thanks for the kind words. Uncle A was quite the guy.

Countess AG: How true about the windows of the blogosphere! I'd like to think that the Baroness my friends know is close to what I write - but I know for a fact that I'm much better expressing myself in writing than verbally. And you?

Countess MW: Welcome! Believe me, it was my pleasure to talk about Unc. Thanks for dropping by.

Asthmagirl said...

Far better at expressing myself in writing...!

maggie, dammit said...

I can't imagine what it must feel like to get to the age of your aunt and be forced to become the messenger of death. I have a hard time picturing myself at that age, watching my loved ones die one by one -- I can't imagine how I will survive that.

Part of the comfort I might take, however, is that there are people who might write beautiful tributes like this one for each of them and, hopefully, for me. Maybe that will help it feel survivable.

Your Uncle Alec sounds like he was a pretty neat guy. Thanks for this.

Baroness von Bloggenschtern said...

Countess AG: Ah-HAH!

Countess Maggie: I have a friend who says it's a pity that all the anecdotes that go into a eulogy can't be told to everyone while the person is still alive - there's so much to know, and never enough time.

Lisa said...

Uncle Alec really was Alexander the Great!

On eulogies ... those anecdotes can be shared, but it's gotta be a conscious effort every day. Reminds me of my mother saying "I'd rather get flowers when I'm alive." So true.

.....Babs Peapod

Not Afraid to Use It said...

What a beautiful post, Baroness. You really did your Uncle justice in your description. How wonderful to have such great memories of him. I am sure he remembered you fondly, as well.

Blog Antagonist said...

I love reading family stories, sad though they may be. The people who have gone before us are so instrumental in crafting our own selves. They should be remembered.

That said, I liked your last sentence very much. Opening windows is good, but we have to remember not to shut the door on life.

Baroness von Bloggenschtern said...

Countess Babs: What a great line from your mom! And so true.

Countess NATUI: I'd like to think he remembered me fondly, but I was quite the brat as a child (so-o-o-o evolved now)(!), so maybe not so much. It doesn't really matter.

Countess BA: What can I say? It was your meme that was so inspirational - I turned it over and over in my head. I loved the metaphor.

The older I get, the more I feel the need to express gratitude for those who came before me - to imagine life without their influence, however imperceptible, would be an injustice.

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