Thursday, March 4th, 2010
This morning my great-uncle Harvey died. I am sad because I loved him, loved spending hot summer days fishing with cane poles in his catfish pond, but also because it feels like the last part of my Papaw is gone.
Harvey and Frank were the closest of the nine brothers and sisters, closest in age, in temperament, in appearance. Both were listed as 5’6″ tall on their World War II draft cards; both were small-boned and narrow-shouldered, with the same 1940s swoop to their hair and the same long-fingered hands. Both were quiet and funny and kind and wonderful.
They were born one year apart and died one year apart.
One of the hardest parts of Papaw’s funeral last year was seeing Harvey cry, seeing him mourn his last living brother and best friend. We stopped by his house later, and he was so much like Papaw still, watching his daytime soaps turned up loud, inviting us to stay a while – even his voice was like Papaw’s voice! – that I knew as long as he lived, a part of Papaw would still be here.
But even then Harvey was sick. His once-manicured piece of land was overgrown, so that we couldn’t even see the pond anymore; he had been too weak from the cancer to care for it for a long time. Everyone knew it was a matter of time.
These past few weeks he has been on hospice care, and my mom has been doing that thing she does, telling me every time she sees me, “They say Uncle Harvey doesn’t have long left.” Preparing me, preparing herself.
This morning, I told D if we ever have a boy, we should name him Harvey. An hour later, Mom called to tell us he had died.
It took a little while for the news to sink in. Mom told D on the phone, and he told me, and at first Mom’s careful preparation worked. I wasn’t surprised. He was 91 years old. He had been very sick.
But it’s one of those things where the more I think about it, the more it hurts. Harvey was Papaw’s closest brother, one of the few remaining from their generation, and one of the last remnants of my sweet childhood days, those precious summer weeks we would spend with Papaw and his brother, always outside in the grass and water and dirt.
Harvey’s death is the true end of an era, the closing of a door, the lock on the gate to the Secret Garden. Now, the only ones left to recall those lost sunlit times are my sister and me. But we will recall them – and him – always.