July 27, 2010

To Harry

Well first I should say that my father in law is doing well, recovering nicely and due to go home later this week. So that's a big relief. Yay for modern medicine. The kids and I have been at my parents house this week, being pampered and having our nails painted (ok, not Briton on that one, but Evie and I) and all that jazz. Which is great.

But back to Harry, I'm sure you are all wondering who the heck Harry is and why this is for him.

Harry was my great uncle. Actually, to be technically correct he is the cousin of my grandmother which makes him my... I'm not really sure. I guess it makes him a relative that in most cases I wouldn't really know. But this is a special case. Harry was a surrogate for my grandmother, who passed away when I was one and who was his best friend and confidant when they were children in the North End of London. Without Harry, I might never have had the clear and vivid image of my grandmother that I do, she has, for my entire life, lived as a sort of Lucile Ball/ Marlene Dietrich-like Diva in my mind. And much of that is down to Harry. He is the one who wove tales for me when I was a girl visiting him in London, of their adventures and antics. Like the time they tried to cover penny pieces with foil so they would look like they were worth more when they went to the candy store. Or the time they rigged up a tin can telephone stretched from her apartment building across the courtyard to his. He told me stories from the war, how he managed to "borrow" a plane, a pilot and a load of bananas and flew across Africa from the base where he was stationed to the one where she was, because he missed her.

But it wasn't just for my Grandmothers sake that I loved Harry. One of my very earliest memories was of a crackly voice coming down the telephone line at some ungodly early hour, telling me to save up my pennies and come over and give him a hug. And when I finally did just that, saving up all of my allowance and babysitting money to spend the summer of my freshman year in high school out in the distant suburbs of London, he took me to castles and coastal towns and monuments and to Sherwood Forest because I loved Robin Hood. He tried to teach me how to drive, which may account for the reason that I have an easier time driving on the wrong side of the road than I do on the right, and defended me like a lion, even though I didn't want defending, when a way too old Italian guy I met in a park started hitting on my.

For all of my life, Harry has been an integral, if sometimes distant and slightly wacky, park of our family. When Briton met him at two, he hopped off the train in the dead of night and ran right up to him, calling him "Pop" and giving him a big slopping toddler kiss. And on the rare occasions I saw in over the years, it was always as if time had stopped, as if I'd never been away, and we carried on with the weird and wonderful conversations that we were having the last time we were together. He often joked to me that he was only growing younger, and that one day we would meet in the middle.

Harry passed away this weekend. He had just turned 90 which is pretty darn impressive. And while I'm sad that he will no longer be at the other end of the line, with his mad barking dog, his crazy ass birds that could never remember "polly want a cracker" but were excellent at expression like "give me a cracker dammit!" and his ever present companion and tea maker, the only other Gillian I've met who spells her name properly, I'm also happy, because now he's with my grandma, which means everyone else up there better watch out, because I guarantee you they are already up to no good.