Using Bees To Effect Vengeance
Thursday, May 26, 2005
My Uncle Henry passed away this morning, in London. He was a minicab-driver -- when his eyesight got too bad to drive, he started working day shifts exclusively and then eventually stayed back at the office as a dispatcher. I didn't know what he did when I was a kid -- I just knew he was always genuinely happy to see us, that he played the long-suffering husband to perfection, and that he was about as nice a man as I had ever met.
We emigrated from England when I was 8, but when I spent my junior year of college in London, I got to know him a little better. What I found is that he was always genuinely happy to see me, he played the long-suffering husband to perfection, and that he was about as nice a man as I ever met. He was a product of the old Jewish East End, and while he ended up, like many other second- and third-generation London Jews, in Northwest London, he was very proud of his roots. He was also a history buff -- particularly interested in military history of WWII, if I recall correctly -- so when he and my Auntie Nita invited me over for dinner that year, we'd enjoy discussing whatever I was studying at the time.
I had decided before I arrived in London that I would be doing my senior History thesis on Jack the Ripper and late Victorian English society. While I knew that much, I didn't know much more -- so when it came time to start researching, I asked if he would take me around the East End, Jack the Ripper's old stomping grounds. He'd heard the stories as a kid and naturally could take me straight to every insalubrious back alley or long-demolished doss-house I could have hoped for. He also managed to weave into our tour a fascinating history of the Klots, the Gvertzes, and the Abrahams, along with a social history of the institutions of early 20th century Jewish life in London. It was an amazing and enriching afternoon, and I was grateful for his generosity, his obvious enthusiasm, and his terrific memory. He insisted that I send him a copy of whatever I ended up writing, and in turn I promised to do so.
14 months later, the thesis that began percolating that afternoon won an award for Best History Honors Thesis at UT. The dedication on the first page was to him, in thanks for getting me started. The next time I saw him, he told me how touched he had been by that gesture. I was just glad I'd had the opportunity to acknowledge him.
The last time I saw Uncle Henry was at my cousin's wedding last December...he was making fatalistic albeit good-humored comments indicating he knew his time was nearly up. My last memory of him is of the wedding night -- he was sitting on a bench outside a hotel ballroom, gaining some respite from the noisy reception. I'd ducked out for the same reason, and found him attempting to console his little grandson Jack. Jack was grief-stricken upon learning that someone had consumed a special dinner roll he had named and therefore had refused to eat, despite being very hungry himself.
Uncle Henry was clearly relishing every nanosecond of his time with his grandson, and eventually succeeded in shifting Jack's attention to happier matters. Watching that scene, the lump immediately formed in my throat and I could feel my eyes start to well up. I knew I would probably never see him again. I took a minute to fight it back and then walked up and began talking with him about the wedding, our family, and his grandchildren.
He was a nice man.
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