The best and worst of times
by Marie Dixon Frisch
Uncle George died last week. I’ve been postponing the condolences because I don’t know what to say.
It was the best of times in the good old days when I could stay with the Henry family while Mum went off to wherever for a week, a month, or two. As a single mother, she sometimes shared the parenting role with wonderful folks all over Jamaica.
Sometimes I felt like the dandelion in the cabbage patch. But the Henrys were like real family. I looked a bit like them; I knew their house as well as my own. We shared adventures in the bush, skipped and drifted through school together. They called me cousin and treated me like I belonged. In fact, the article ‘It Takes a Village’ that marked the beginning of my association with OneUp was all about people like them.
Uncle George was my archetypical father figure: a tall, impressive man. He developed new products at the Highgate chocolate factory and sometimes we got to test them in the trial phase. He told great stories and subscribed to National Geographic. We learned about the wonders of the world. His black leather reclining chair was the best classroom I’ve known.
Aunt Caroll and Uncle George were both scientists. Although I have since abandoned all scientific aspirations, I probably ‘inherited’ my flickering passion for experimenting and exploring new things from them.
Spanking was legitimate back then and the boys, especially, got their fair share – sometimes maybe more. But even the best of us are fallible, too. It’s part of being human. That’s why forgiveness is divine. Our parents did the best job they could. What we considered the worst punishments – and I can’t think of any from the Henrys – were meant to make better people of us. I think they succeeded; look at us now!
I had to bend to hug tall, invincible Uncle George in a wheelchair at the airport the last time we met. I couldn’t make it to their place while Aunt Caroll and he were in Jamaica for his last trip home. So I took a crazy Jamaican minibus to Montego Bay to say goodbye. Uncle George, worn and weaker than I’d ever imagined he could be. But still he flashed a warm, wonderful smile. How does one reduce a giant to a wheelchair?
Aunt Caroll was positive and persevering while they fought the cancer. Their kids were at his bedside the whole time at the end. They say it’s a relief that he has no more pain.
Afterwards, Aunt Caroll told the anecdote of how she couldn’t comb my hair one day. I was too tender-headed and she didn’t have the patience to face my tears. So Uncle George took the comb and did it instead. I don’t know if I ever told him how grateful I was for everything. Is this the worst timing, or what? I’ll tell his kids and Aunt Caroll instead. Maybe it will be some consolation.
Heather mentioned that a blood cousin of theirs recently traced their roots back to Charlemagne. She told Uncle George about it before he died. She wants to send me the details of the 600+ page family research. Because although I’m not a blood relation, it’s still like I’m part of the family.
Robert and Peter seem to be holding up. I sent them emails to tell them I care. Peter sent back a brief personal reply, a form e-mail and the obituary. Robert called me a second sister. Andrew was too young to remember me and I don’t have his email address anyway. But I know the family are supporting each other every step of the way. It’s one of the things I love best about the Henry clan.
And I guess there’s no bad time to remember that you love someone.