I started to draft an email to columnist who wrote the article (posted two entries before this) about my uncle, but I found myself going on and on when I really just wanted to thank him. But it got me started on a tangent that I think I should follow here.
You probably don't remember me, but we met at my Uncle Warren's viewing last week. A friend forwarded me your column this morning and I just wanted to thank you for writing such a great story about Warren. Seeing as how he was 20 years older than me, I never had the privilege of knowing him as a child; only given a glimpse through pictures and stories. Growing up, Warren was sort of elusive to me - the only Uncle not around for every birthday and holiday because he was at school or traveling. Not that I minded; these were things I admired greatly. I still have most of the odd, but loved, gifts that he sent me - an old fashioned mini-eggbeater to use in my Playskool kitchen, a stuffed aardvark (who but Warren would send such a thing to a little girl that loved kittens and the color pink?), a story written half in French so that I'm still not sure exactly what the characters are saying. I wore the cross he gave me for my first communion all last week.
Warren was not a big part of my everyday life - days, maybe even weeks could pass without giving him any thought. Until he got sick, anyway. But, at the same time, he was a huge part of my life.
I remember my sixth birthday party. All day, my parents made a huge fuss because a "surprise guest" was coming to the party. I immediately thought this must be my uncle. I was so convinced, that when a beautiful woman with pink hair rounded the corner into the backyard, I didn't even recognize her as my favorite cartoon character, Jem.
My cousin Katie and I used to plot out our dream futures together. Mine always involved a pink house in Boston with several cats. I had never been to Boston or owned a cat, but that is where Warren lived with his cats, Wally and Beaver.
I remember the gift he gave me for my 16th birthday - foreign money (I can't remember for which country) for my first trip to Europe. I knew he was proud of me, but I don't think he ever knew that he was the reason I wanted to travel so badly, the reason I tried (but ultimately failed) to learn French, and probably the reason I will hop on a plane tomorrow for Prague with my passport securely in the travel wallet he gave me last Christmas.
Aside from the unique, carefully selected gifts we always received at Christmas, Warren left us all with much greater gifts. He taught me about being different and appreciating those differences. He collected friends like someone might collect items for a museum. He had one of everything. His ex-wife was the first woman I had even known to not shave her armpits. His neighbor showed us how to make art out of tinfoil. Instead of crayons and coloring books, Warren selected watercolor paints and pastels for us to play with at the beach. He took Mike and me to one of those Chinese restaurants where dead fowl hung from the front window and cooked crawfish at a family dinner. He introduced us to jazz, the ballet, and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. He encouraged us to drink good coffee and scotch (sorry, Warren, I still prefer Dunkin Donuts and beer).
It's easy to feel ok right now. My life will go on the same, even with this immense hole in it. But the smell of pipe tobacco will always make me look around the room for a man with playful, bright blue eyes and a dark beard with cookie crumbs peaking out from just below his mouth.