I belong to a sentimental kind of family - the kind that remembers loved-and-lost people, that revels in sharing images in old photos, in old home movies and on video, the kind of family that not only emails candid photos to each other on birthdays and anniversaries, but also has the birthdays & anniversaries of departed relatives marked on their current calendars.
Sometimes we remember those we loved by raising a glass to toast their memories. Sometimes we remember them in .... the kitchen. Does anyone else connect certain relatives with their favorite foods? We do! Oral history tells us that Grandma Kitty loved kidney stew, horseradish and coconut macaroons, Grandpa Jim ate a whole raw onion every night before dinner, Uncle George was a broccoli fan and the key to Uncle Ollie's heart was a big dish of stuffed peppers.
Beloved Uncle Harold's favorite pie was mince - so his wife, my piano-playing Aunt Helen, made sure that a mincemeat pie was always included in the holiday desserts - a choice that was soundly rejected by the kids in my generation. Luckily for us, Harold's other favorite pie was banana cream - one we were happy to share. His December birthday plus St Nicholas Day plus Christmas also confused us into thinking that Herald Angels were Harold Angels.... not too far off the truth! He died a long time ago, but some years I find myself making a banana cream pie on my uncle's birthday and thinking about him.
Harold grew up in Chicago, second son in a big family. His dad had a furniture finishing shop where Harold learned to like making furniture as a hobby... as a young man he worked in the office of a big furniture company, falling like a rock once he saw my cute little aunt -the feeling was mutual. Harold's generosity and courtesy soon made the whole family love him. A few years after they were married, the Second World War separated them, and Harold served with the Army Air Corps (forerunner of the US Air Force) in the Mariana Islands where he worked on the cameras of reconnaissance planes. He contracted malaria, returning to the US many months after the war ended.
With no children of their own, Helen & Harold shared love and worldly goods with the children of their brothers and sisters. They were wonderful godparents! Harold bought a 16mm home movie camera to record family parties and the antics of the youngsters... and this attention made more than two dozen nieces and nephews feel special, and as time went on it was hilarious to watch ourselves grow up when the projector came out for movie shows. We saw Helen and Harold at least once a week when we were growing up, but he was usually behind the camera - not in front of it, so we don't have enough photos of him.
Aunt Helen and Uncle Harold hosted family picnics at their small, perfect cottage on a large lot - with landscaping that he designed, planted and maintained - even letting a small, flower-loving niece believe she was helping.Harold's post-war work was in textbook publishing - and that lead to a perk for us! The display books from the office were nicely bound outside but with blank pages inside. They were replaced periodically and he passed along the outdated models. Having real books in which to draw & write our thoughts let us pretend we were real writers and artists.
Helen's piano was replaced by a Hammond Organ - she delighted in leading family singalongs. Once the group stopped singing and began talking, Harold would take a turn on the bench - coaxing a different set of melodies from the keys as background music for the conversation. How I wish for a recording of even one song!
The old camera was replaced around the time the older nieces and nephews traded dolls and baseball bats for mortar boards and bridal veils - now Uncle Harold was ready to film the great-nieces and great-nephews , traveling to see the younger generations as they set up housekeeping in distant suburbs and other states. There's the camera in his hand below - outside our rickety student dwelling. They drove 1000 miles to see us, and acted as if they were visiting a palace instead of a dump, complimenting our newlywed culinary experiments as if they were dining in a fine restaurant. That's the kind of gentleman he was.
Harold died too young - long before retirement age - breaking the hearts of all he left behind. Many years later as we ring in 2011, gone is not forgotten... in this Christmas season, you are still our Harold Angel!
2016 – APRIL ANNIE’S GARDEN DAY
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