Unsolicited Advice

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My ninety-five year old uncle called me after Ariela died, right after Shiva, the Jewish ritual of seven days of mourning. He told me he was sorry for our loss. “You loved her, you did everything for her. You gave her everything you could. Now, get over it. Move on with your life.”

At first, I was stunned. On the face of it, his words seemed so callous.

“He didn’t really mean it the way it came out,” his son told me. I wondered about my uncle’s curious advice.

My mother-in-law used to say, “When you live as long as I have, you can say anything you damn well please.” She was well into her eighties when she said this. Still, I didn’t want to dismiss my uncle too quickly.

I saw my uncle this weekend. He lives in Chicago now, and I don’t see him often. He uses a walker and has trouble hearing. He still plays Scrabble. He plays with the dictionary by his side and looks up words before he places his tiles.

He called me “Hairy-et.” I called him, “Uncle Rudy Kazootie.” My uncle from Luxembourg, a country too small to see on our globe. My uncle who manufactured draperies and bedspreads, who read the New York Times every day on the subway, who always wore a hat to cover his balding head, who rooted for the Yankees while my dad cheered for the Orioles, who was openly affectionate with his wife. “She’s a hot potato,” he’d say as he pulled her onto his lap, something my father would never do with my mother.

“I’m the last of the Mohicans,” my uncle said after my cousin Robert died last year. Robert was in his eighties. That left my uncle the last person to know my parents before I was born. “What were they like?” I asked him.

“Good people,” he said. “Your father was an exceptional person.” He put two fingers to his lips and kissed them, like he had tasted fine wine. Then, he squinted his eyes and pushed his palm against his forehead, trying to squeeze out more memories.

My aunt died more than ten years ago. My parents are both gone, too. Of his four siblings, only Rudy’s younger sister is left. A black and white photograph of his younger brother hung in a central position in my uncle’s living room. A handsome man in a soldier’s uniform. “He volunteered for a mission over France and never returned,” my aunt said shaking her head. He was twenty-two, younger than Ariela.

I told Gary about my uncle’s advice. “Don’t you remember Ariela’s favorite expression?” he said.

Ariela spoke with a computer. She used her eyes as a mouse. She had hundreds of phrases filed into folders by category and subcategory. When she was done listening to other people’s complaints about anything from traffic to taxes, from colds to Comcast, she’d navigate through her files and say, “Get over it.”

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