Daddy and each of his sisters had only one child, three girls and one boy.I was the tail end of the cousins, the very tip of the tail. Mom and Daddy had me pretty late in life, my cousins (on this side of the family) were all much older (One cousins had a daughter, my second-cousin, my age).
Aunt Edith and her husband Uncle Eli and my cousin Larry (14 years my senior) lived one city block and a half from us. I spent a lot of time over there and Uncle Eli was one of my favorites. I used to fantasize that Larry was my big brother (I'm sure that drove him nuts). Anyway, a few months before my 12th birthday, on a cold and snowy November day, Uncle Eli went to work and had a heart attack. It was one of those heart exploding attacks where one minute he was there and the next he was gone, no resuscitation necessary.
We were all saddened and shocked. My cousin Larry especially. He was so close to his Dad. My Aunt Edith was a lost soul. She was blind (due to neglect of her diabetes) and she depended on Eli for everything. Everyone was worried about how she would get on. Actually, she go on better than anybody because Uncle Eli came to be with her all the time. The family, Daddy in particular, thought she was going around the bend. It was always interesting to me that they discounted things like; she got really mad at Larry when he painted her bedroom yellow (she hated the color yellow). Larry was perplexed at how she knew. (He had yellow paint left over from another project and figured it was paint. She couldn't see. What was the big deal). The family was sworn to secrecy. Aunt Edith told him and the rest of us, Uncle Eli told her it was yellow.
By January all family discussion centers on Aunt Edith ad her growing delusions. My other two Aunts decided to have a mini intervention and sit her down for a talk. Aunt Ruth and her grown and married daughter, Jean, (who lived outside the city in a small town) where going to drive in and pick up Aunt Grace. The three of them would go over and spend the afternoon with Aunt Edith and try to straighten her out. Daddy highly approved of the plan and although I never knew for sure I' suspect Larry was also in favor.
On a cold, grey, snowy, day my Aunt Ruth and Cousin Jean apparently missed a stop sign on a wide country road. The were t-boned by a car going at top speed. In the days before seat belts, both were thrown through the windshield. My cousin was decapitated and my aunt was crushed. Daddy was a big city cop and knew all the local law enforcement in the surrounding small towns. When my Uncle and my cousins husband could not be located for notification of their deaths, the attending police called Daddy. He offered to identify the bodies so their husbands didn't have to see them. Daddy was also in charge of notifying the family.
On that day, I came home from school early for some reason. The procedure after school was to call my Mom at work and check-in. When I called her office, they told me she had left for the day and should be home. I heard the front door and the back door, to the house, opening at the same time. Mom came in the front and Daddy the back. I was in the middle hallway. Mom looked at Daddy and said, "What's wrong? Whose dead? Why did you call me to come home early?"
Before I go any farther I should explain Mom is Polish. I grew up in Chicago were I was exposed to a lot of ethnicity, but let me tell you no nationality is more demonstrative emotionally than the Polish. So...Daddy says, "Eleanor, Ruth and Jean were killed in an accident." That was it. Mom throws herself on the bed crying and screaming and literally tearing at her hair and kicking her feet. After a little while of Daddy trying to console her (with absolutely no affect whatsoever) Daddy asks me, "Do you want to stay here with your mother or go to Aunt Edith's with me? I have to tell her."
"Are you kidding me?" Mom is down right scary, I'm with Daddy going to Aunt Edith's. We decide to walk the block and a half. At Aunt Edith's, Daddy puts the key in the door and we walk in, before he can call out and identify himself Aunt Edith says "Art, come in and sit down."This in itself is a little unusual, remember she is blind. How did she know it was him?
Daddy says, "Edith I..."
She cuts him off with, "Art sit down, don't talk, I have something to tell you."
I'm bracing myself. Nobody orders Daddy around like that, especially not one of his sisters.
Daddy says, "Edith..."
That's all he gets out before she says, "Art shut up. I have something I need to tell you."
Amazing, I'm thinking, because Daddy rolls his eyes and sits down. I sit right next to him. It's creepy in Aunt Edith's house there isn't a light on and it's pretty cloudy and dark. Daddy is almost never this patient.
Aunt Edith proceeds to tell us; "Eli was here this afternoon. Ruth and Jean are with him. It will be alright. Art, they want you to know that they are perfect." That's it. That's the message for Daddy.
Well,Daddy gets all huffy and demands to know who told her. She sticks to her story; it was her dead husband who came and told her and gave words of comfort to her and to my father. Daddy never acknowledged whether he believed her or not, at least not in front of me. I believed her then and I believe her now.
There is more to the story. About a week after the double funeral, I couldn't sleep and I heard my parents in the kitchen. Daddy was crying (one of the few times in my life I ever heard Daddy cry, at least when he was stone cold sober.) He was telling my mother that in all his years 'on the job' and all the terrible things he had seen,nothing was so horrible at the sight of his beautiful sister and her lovely daughter so mutilated as they were in that accident. He sobbed that he would never forget that sight.
I never forgot these things. It was years, and a whole lot of understanding, later that I realized my Uncle Eli's message was most particularly for my Daddy. He was trying to tell him that in the hereafter we will all be made perfect, no matter the circumstances of our death. He was trying to reach out and comfort Daddy. I loved Uncle Eli so much in life and I loved him even more when I thought about what he was trying to do for the family he left behind. I never saw him. He never came and talked to me. I know he was there for his wife and for my Daddy and in a way for me too.
Death is just the next adventure. How grateful I am to Uncle Eli for prolonging his time to take that next step, in order to give a family grieving and lost, a peak at the wonder of it all.
The writer in me would like to "scare" you with a ghost story. I've met a few, and they have never been scary, even the lost souls. Instead of scaring you, maybe this could give you some comfort. It's all true, or maybe I'm crazy. Either way.....
Another tale from the place where I live. A place where 'commas are optional'.