Monday, July 19, 2010

Sayonara Uncle Stanley

As part of the general disappearance of my mother's generation, Uncle Stanley was laid to rest today in Farmingdale where all good New York Jews go to die. It's a litany of Cohens, Applebaums, Nadels and Steinbergs as you drive down the endless sea of tombstones with rocks on them. The grass is burnt from this hot summer and of course, there are no flowers or color as far as the eye can see. A smoking generator puffs away in the next field.

Uncle Stanley was 75. He was, for a good part of my life, one of the central male figures in my family. He was larger than life, and larger than most anybody you know, which I have now learned is an actual real-world problem when choosing a coffin and fitting into a pre-determined gravesite, which are sold in standard lots and can have difficulty accommodating a wide girth without special tending. Obesity was something he grappled with his whole life, mostly with very good success, but it was not easy. Once for Thanksgiving he was given special provision to eat a Caesar's Salad, which was a luxury from the carefully monitored diet a special doctor kept him on, which was mostly food-free.

He laughed a lot and often, and I found out that my son has the same feelings for him, because Stanley loved to play with small children. As we grew older he lost interest, but that first impression of a man who got down on his knees to play with you, was the one that stuck for life.

I hadn't seen him for at least four years due to one of those family rifts that make you choose sides, but I can still hear his laugh quite clearly. When he was able to make Aunt Phyllis laugh, which seemed to happen less and less as life spun by, the reward of her rare laugh was reward worth waiting for.

He had a certain success, along with another uncle, selling mood rings and razor blade necklaces. He drove a Cadillac and wore diamond rings on every finger. He coached his son's baseball team and I have some memory of them being in the Daily News - perhaps his son (my cousin) pitched a Little League No Hitter sometime in the mid-1970's? I can't quite remember the exact story and the Daily News archives online only go back to 1996. Around that same time, after Uncle Stanley lost a whole bunch of weight, there was a black and white Kodak Instamatic photo on their fridge of him on the baseball field, his stomach profile comically large. It was meant to warn him of what will happen if he opened the door. I wish I had that photo.
It was a very proud time when Uncle Stanley bought a small house in Long Island, and off they moved out of Queens and into the real suburbs. They got a Cockapoo named Cookie, a back yard and a pool table in the basement. We no longer played scully in the playground across the street from their house, but my cousin still rode me around on the back of her banana seat bike to the new playground down the street which usually had no kids and was kind of a lonely place. Long Island playgrounds were nothing like Queens playgrounds; they were frivolous. Uncle Stanley was providing a life for his family that was well beyond what a 9th grade graduate ever expected to accomplish. A real rags to riches story, the kind Long Island was built for.


Anonymous said...

A lovely post Jill. As usual, your writing resonates deeply with me, capturing the essence of a childhood roughly parallel to my own. Your nuanced observations about people I am not related to, but surely could have been, are nurturing for me... as if you were able to bear witness to my own solitary childhood.
Now I can fondly remember uncle Stanley... aka my own uncle Herman, cousin Ed, Uncle Izzy...
Thank you,

Dan S. said...

I enjoy your writing.

Goggla said...

A very nice post, Jill. It made me smile and I'm sorry you've lost such a special loved one.

Larry Slade said...

Lovely Jill. Nice of you to remember your uncle in this way.