My Uncle Ed passed away recently.
I can't write about him without writing about New Year's Day. For years, my mom and dad threw the best New Year's party I'd ever been to, and it started up hours after the ball dropped in Times Square. It started out, I believe, as simply the day we'd invite my dad's cousins over to the house, and we'd have hors d'oeuvres and dinner and watch the parades and bowl games. I was a little kid at the start of these. I have a distinct memory of making designs with my Spirograph with my cousin Wendy, in the house we lived in up until I was in second grade. Anyhow, I saw my mom's side of the family all the time, but this was really the one day of the year I could count on seeing my dad's side.
As we got older, the party changed a bit. My cousins started bringing their kids, and the party grew. Other family friends would come over, and the party grew. My brothers, my sister and I would invite a couple friends, and the party grew. People would be happily jammed into the kitchen, dining room and family room, talking and watching the game and digging into the buffalo chicken dip and eating delicious little jellied hot dogs on toothpicks. Man, I loved those things.
But in the living room, my Uncle Ed and Aunt Florence would be holding court. He'd have his harmonica out, telling jokes and stories, reciting poems, and playing songs with his sons and daughters and daughters-in-law and grandkids. And us. Singing old songs: folk music like "Mountain Dew," or pieces of Americana like "Daisy," written before most of us were born. The crowd gathered, the crowd stayed, the crowd piped up. There was no fire in the fireplace. We didn't need one. Uncle Ed and his harmonica were the spark, and Jim and his guitar and Brian with his concertina fanned the flame. And New Year's Day was my favorite day of the year.
Uncle Ed was 52 when I was born; he was 93 when he passed away. I realize now that I have no earthly idea what he did as an occupation between coming home as a veteran of World War II and taking up coaching tennis in his retirement. I'm okay with having that gap in my knowledge. I don't need to think of him at a desk, getting the bills paid. To me, he'll always be on my mom's sofa, playing that harp. The happiest man I know.
Play us out, Uncle Ed.