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2005-06-25 - 2:52 p.m.

A weekend of uncles.

It's hot again. But I seem to be surviving. So far today, I've cleaned the litter boxes, removed the rubbish adn recycling, vacuumed the apartment (not recommended on a really hot day, actually), and cleaned up in the kitchen. Nothing like household labor to give you a sense of accomplishment when the writing is going slowly.

This little factoid may reveal the nature of my sheltered childhood: I just discovered steel wool. Okay, I knew it existed, but last week I actually bought some, mostly so that I could clean out the rusty, corroded fume hoods I inherited in my dilapidated lab. Well, the box of little steel pads (undoubtedly stripped from poor little sheep with terrible skin problems...), has been sitting in my kitchen, next to an array of disgusting pots that I've not been able to clean since I moved to New York. (The water temperature in my apartment is not high enough to remove grease.) Well, today I just opened the box, put on a pair of gloves, and started scrubbing. Wow. Why didn't anybody tell me about this stuff before?


This is a weekend of uncles. Two days ago I got an telephone call from my uncle in Baltimore, who is flying to Greece for the summer. (Actually, he's flying to Turkey. But we don't really advertise that fact because he's married into a Greek family). Anyway, the cheapest flight he could find is out of JFK, and so today he is driving up from Baltimore and having me watch his car for three weeks. This essentially means that I will be driving the car back and forth across the street to avoid the street cleaners.

I tried to convince him to take public transporation to JFK...and then he informed me that he is bringing a BOAT with him. An inflatable dinghy with real oarlocks - supposed to be great on the greek island they are visiting. So he's stuffed it into his suitcase to take with him. And thus he's not keen on lugging a boat on and off public transportation...So, I will drive him to the airport today. If he makes it up from Baltimore. In addition to being incredibly lovable, my uncle is a cheapskate, and notoriously late - he just called and will probably arrive one hour before his international flight, IF the traffic is reasonable.


I also miraculously heard from my father's brother, who lives in California. I haven't seen or heard from him since I was six or seven years old. I didn't even see him at my dad's funeral, because he refuses to use any mode of transportation less than 100 years old (airplanes, specifically).

Andrew is apparently a genius. Not casually, as in, "that guy's a genius" because he can calculate the tip in a restaurant. As in a certified genius, or math savant, or something. The kind of person hired into think tanks, but who has trouble putting his trousers on in the morning. Andrew is also a bit weird.

My brother thinks that Andrew was the only sane one out of my father's family of four brothers. They were raised in the mennonite faith, with a maniacal, dictatorial father (my grandfather). I only remember that my grandfather gave us sermons on Sundays about how wives and children were supposed to behave, and he would not allow my grandmother touch or handle money. I also know the schizophrenic way in which my father treated us when we were children. One night he would sing me to sleep and tell me how smart and talented I was, the next day he would tell my brother and I that we were worthless and lazy. Years later I came to the conclusion that my dad was fighting with two personalities: the one he inherited from his father, and the one he truly wanted to be. It's very tough to love a man like that - but I guess the place to begin is to understand them.

The woman I knew as my grandmother was actually my great aunt - after my real grandmother died when my dad was four years old, my grandfather married my grandmother's sister - a common practice Biblical times, and also in certain religious communities.

I have a picture of my real grandmother on the bookshelf in my living room. I'll never forget the first time I saw that picture, because was like looking in a mirror. My father stood me before a mirror, took my long hair in his hands and pulled it up and away from my face. Then he put the picture on the counter in front me. The resemblance was incredible. My grandmother died giving birth to a baby girl in 1945, on the same day that would later become my birthday.

I've often wondered what she was like, what that baby girl - my aunt - would have been like, and always felt drawn to understand her. Her face in the picture looks gentle and kind. I see it and I think of light. My father's family has always told me that she was the source of happiness in their household, a happiness that was extinguished with her death. When my dad died a few years ago, I only asked for a few things from his possessions - one was that picture. There is something haunting about a person I feel I was meant to know, but never had the chance.

This was a long involved way of saying that my father's family lived through quite odd and traumatic experiences, causing them all to be a bit odd and off-kilter. Andrew is certainly no exception, and in fact his life was perhaps even more tragic. His wife and two of his three sons all died in separate bizarre accidents. The third son is in and out of prison related to drug addiction. Andrew has not lived an easy life.

Yesterday I received an email from Uncle Andrew, informing me that Billy Grahame's last crusade will take place only a few miles from where I live. In case I wanted to go....I read it and rolled my eyes. I knew that he had always been religious... I thought of replying that a group of us were planning to go and get stoned. (but then I realized that "stoned" has a biblical meaning as well). And then I thought of asking, "Who's Billy Grahame?" In the end, I will probably say, "Yes, I heard about it. I expect the traffic is terrible." At some point I have to accept these gestures in the way that I accepted my father. They are simply attempts to reach out and say hello.

And now I must go. Uncle Number 1 has called and it looks as though he will miss his flight if he has to swing by my house. So I am going to check traffic conditions and deal with planning the best route for him. and then figure out how I am going to get to the airport to retrieve his car...

Families, at least, make life interesting.

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