Uncle Phil was smiling as he told a funny story. From across my cousin’s living room, I could see his expression just as I remembered it as a child when he would wave at me from the fire escape of his Bronx apartment.
“Hello Patrick,” he would call to me as I stood at the window of my Grandma’s fire escape that faced his.
“I’m not Patrick; I’m Patty.” I would call back across the alley, shaking my head vigorously to emphasize.
We played out this little scenario every time my family and I visited. I looked forward to it on the drive from Virginia in my father’s blue Nash Rambler with the reclining passenger seat.
I sat with my memory for a few moments before walking over to give him a hug. “You have the same expression as your grandpa had,” I told Uncle Phil’s grandson, Alan, now in his 70’s.
In the small space of a moment, I had allowed myself to forget that my uncle had passed away many years ago. For that moment, I was a little girl on a fire escape trying to pretend I was mad before dissolving into giggles.
In another part of the room, Alan’s brother, Gary, was on the floor playing with his adorable little granddaughter, entranced with all the new words she had learned since his last visit. And he was working on adding another word to her vocabulary, “Gramps,” which is what he called his grandfather, my Uncle Phil.
Growing up, I saw little of these cousins since they lived in York and I was anchored away in Virginia. I’m pretty sure I was at their bar mitzvahs but as grown-ups we all scattered and I wound up in California. It’s only in recent years, when they looked up their Aunt Jean, my Mom, and discovered she was living near me, that they came to visit and we all got to know each other.
And we started sharing stories that tied us together. Thanks to Gary’s daughter, the mother of his beautiful granddaughter, who now lives in California, we are making new stories together, as well as passing down old ones.
Alan was concerned that the old stories will all die with us someday.
“Not if I keep writing about them,” I told him.
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