Goodbye Uncle Claude.

Growing up, I never really knew my Uncles that still lived in New Orleans. Summers down there were consumed by grandparents, and cousins. There wasn’t a lot of time for Uncles. So my uncle Claude was always a bit of a mystery to me. Nobody in the family called him Claude, of course, he had a nickname. Given to him, in the grand New Orleans tradition, by his brother, my father. Pee Wee, Uncle Pee Wee, Pee.

When Pee was born, he was tiny. I don’t know if he was premature, or if it was the reality of New Orleans prenatal care, but he was diminutive. My grandmother always said that he could fit in the palm of her hand. I don’t know much about Pee growing up. I know that he was athsmatic. My dad and my other uncles would convince him that he was “The Flash” and he would run around, trying to save them. This, invariably lead to an athsma attack, causing my grandma to close up the house, and burn the only treatment she knew for athsma. Green Mountain Mist, aka, Marijuana. My grandmother claimed that he had juvenile diabetes, but that he “grew out of it.”

Pee Wee grew to make his name ironic. He towered over most people in New Orleans at six foot five inches. He rand track in high school, and everyone said that he was strong and handsome, if a bit gangly.

I know that he and my grandfather never really got along. But my grandfather was not much of a father. Still, my dad used to say that he had a touch of my grandfather’s anxiety, and perhaps that’s what he truly despised.

He graduated college with and English degree and perused law. He passed the Louisiana bar, while teaching English at Southern University. I know that he used to give legal advice, and often worked pro-bono, but his love was teaching. He was a kind man, humorous and intelligent. He liked to challenge his son and I to solve riddles as we road in his car. His first son, Marcus grew to be tall, His marriage fell apart when I was still young. However, he was a dedicated, loving father, whether they were his or not. He lived with my mother’s adoptive father, and took care of him as he aged. He loved the “Walrus and the Carpenter”, and loved any excuse to read it.

My uncle had a stroke fourteen or fifteen years ago. My father swooped him out of New Orleans, trying to save him from the terrible health care in the deep south. He lived with us for a couple years. He was the only person who liked my music. At least, he claimed he did, and that’s all that matters.

He was doing so well, we all decided that he could live in an assisted living home.

My father and I would visit him all the time there. We would bring him Russian novels, and Anne Weier biographies. He had a fascination with Henry VIII, and Czar Nicolas II. He’d read about Stalin and we would have discussions about Napoleon and New Orleans. Then the depression set in.

He got angry. He stopped caring. His kidneys stopped working.

My dad still, every week would visit. Pee Wee kept telling him not to come back, but he did. Every week, until he died, my father would visit him. Sometimes Pee would see him, sometimes he refused. Week after week after week, without fail. I know that right before my father died, he tried to visit Pee Wee… But Pee Wee wouldn’t have any of it. I wondered, just a little bit, if Pee felt a little guilty when my father died. I know he cried. We all cried. Gaspers cry.

After my father died, I stopped visiting My uncle. I don’t know why. I think most of my recent memories of my dad were tied to Pee Wee, and I couldn’t bare being reminded of those times. Maybe it was selfish fear of my own future. Of all my Uncles, I look most like Pee Wee. Whenever I visited him, people assumed I was his son. Was I just tired? Or afraid of being turned away? I called him on his birthday. He sounded like the old uncle that I knew, happy, laughing, in good spirits. Still, I wish I would’ve visited him once or twice more. I wish I would’ve talked with him, and reminisced about my father, or his childhood or something. My relationship with my uncle was a casualty of grief.

My Uncle Claude died yesterday. “Medically Non-compliant” I don’t know if it was my father’s death, or his mothers. I don’t know if it was loneliness or brain chemistry or boredom or the disconnection from his family. I don’t know why. There are a hundred reasons, but I never bothered to find out. I’m sorry uncle Claude. I truly am. I’ll miss you.

Goodbye.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,

“To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings.”