Sometimes the best things are those left behind
- Written by Patsy Oliver
How does that happen? As I write my column this month, it is somewhat with a heavy heart as I remember my dear Uncle Len, who passed away Monday. Uncle Len was my Cute Little German Mother’s sister’s husband. I only had the pleasure of visiting with them twice. Once in the early ‘90s in Berlin and then again in Wales in the summer of 2000. Uncle Len was in the British Army and retired not long before our last visit. He was the epitome of “jolly.” That’s how I will always remember him. He and his family – my Aunt Elfriede and cousins Patrick, Duncan and Corina – lived in Berlin much of their lives. That’s where my aunt met my uncle, and also where my parents met. Uncle Len was a British soldier and my dad an American soldier. Len and Elfriede met, fell in love, and the rest is history. Uncle Len was stationed in Berlin for much of his career, so my cousins speak German as well as they speak English. I keep seeing his bright face, always bearing a broad smile ... I swear that Santa could not be more jolly. He was quick with a joke, boisterous, patient and loving. As I spoke with my cousins yesterday on the phone, I expressed my great sympathy for their loss. There’s just something that changes in you with the loss of a parent. When my mom, dad, sister and I went to visit our overseas family in London and Wales in 2000, we had the most wonderful time trying to catch up, and listening to stories of the past. My mom would start telling of a happy childhood memory, of times before war changed their lives forever, and my aunt would pick up where she left off, and vice versa. My aunt had a stroke a while back and my Uncle Len had been spending much time over the years helping care for her, but you could see that for him, it was no burden. Uncle Len was a great husband and father, and a great man, in general. I remember vividly an afternoon when Uncle Len took us for fish and chips to a cute little place that served them in cardboard on newspapers ... fantastic. We got back to the house, in Wales, where my aunt and uncle retired, and my dad began one of his long, detailed and very funny jokes about a man who was trying to explain his injuries to his insurance company. Uncle Len absolutely erupted when dad finally arrived at the punchline. I thought he might hyperventilate. I’ll never forget that because it was so much a part of who he was ... fun, funny, and so full of life. I see his red face and gray mustache, constant backdrop to his ever-present smile. My cousin Duncan said to me on the phone that he was just then looking at a photo of that visit. The sisters sitting on the love seat and their husbands next to them on each armrest, all aglow with the happy times they had been sharing. I told him that I knew exactly which photo he was talking about ... how we never would have imagined that both of these dear patriarchs would leave us before we had a chance to meet again. I know that the suffering and pain that both Uncle Len and Dad endured are ended, and they are in a better place. But it still leaves those of us here with a huge empty space that our fathers once filled. They left legacies of love, patience and guidance. So, for you Uncle Len, if it’s possible for Heaven to get any brighter, I’m certain your smile has done just that. Get Dad to tell you a joke ... until we meet again.