It was a challenge to select the appropriate accessories. What would Miss Emily Post suggest for a date of this caliber? He was picking me up at noon, as I stared at my closet, debating the look that would be most appropriate. I wasn't going for sultry, mysterious, or heartbreaking. I needed something else...something that hid dust and didn't stick to plastic. This was a gold-standard date, and Seymour was my best suitor, leaving the time and place up to me as he offered up his best gift: time.
How many people have an uncle like Seymour? How many people unwrap such a treasure each year on their birthday? Instead of cd's and stuffed animals, Seymie took a step forward and gave me an afternoon. An afternoon filled with solo adoration, hours to be spent however my childish heart desired. He didn't impose guidelines and simply agreed with a smile as over the years, I requested movies and craft festivals, picnics at the park followed by double scoop ice cream cones. He laced up his roller skates, this silver-haired hero of mine, and refrained from inducing guilt when he took the inevitable fall. This year, my 10th birthday, we buckled our seat belts and headed back towards his house around the corner. Anyone else would have teased and rolled their eyes, but Seymour has a giant's gentle spirit and managed to see only my sparks of goodness, the niece who could do no wrong, no matter what I came up with.
We were on our way to a previously banned location, a room that I read about in children's books, imagining a cave-like fantasy filled with tinker-bells and magic carpets. Seymour had an attic.
If you live in Arizona, where the houses are sprawling rooms absent of stairs, attics are rare commodities. I didn't know that his was filled only with the pink spiky insulation and dusty floorboards, and I didn't care. The fold-out staircase that appeared from the ceiling was enough of a thrill, and as I scanned the corners of his attic, I saw past the useless insulation, and imposed a child's utopia of secret hiding places and storybook characters come alive. So we stood in this forgotten attic space in wonder, and I came to know the man who is my uncle. Instead of shifting impatiently as he watched minutes tick by, he just stood beside me and held my hand; borrowing my eyes to take in the marvels lying dormant in this useless attic. I knew he understood the awe, despite his dusty sneezes and watery eyes. He held my hand and let me breathe in possibilities. He held my hand and transmitted opportunity, the chance to be myself, to share my dreams, to glance up and see that he believed in me and would back these fantasies, no matter how impractical they might be.
And of course, we then headed to his elderly parent's house for lunch, because, with my love of grandparents and continual adoption of extra sets, I thought would it would be great fun. I realize that I was a strange child, desiring dusty attics and lunches eaten on plastic-covered sofas. But part of the blessing of the birthday dates was the lack of requirements, the willingness to smile at outlandish suggestions and tag along for eccentric afternoons.
And so it goes. Each year, he showed up for our date, backed by another 365 days of holding my hand from afar. He was my soft cloud to land, an uncle who answered the phone in crisis, showed up to recitals and concerts, celebrated holidays, and knew when to offer a shoulder rather than advice. He is the uncle who opened his home when I was lost, and offered his love when I was sure I had depleted my other accounts. Our bond wasn't born in birthday dates or due to gifts tied with bows. It is a mutual adoration, an appreciation for the softness, a innate quietness shared in an exuberant family.
Who else would understand that more than unwrapping, I craved moments together and laughter shared? Who else but this man of honor, this husband and father, son and brother? Who else but Seymour would send summer camp letters, signing off with my borrowed tag line: I love you alot and alot. Who else would allow my title of endearment, and settle into being called 'Seymie'? Who else would smile good naturedly as his daughters and I, and most everyone else who knew him, poked fun at his obsessive vitamin-taking or compulsive organizing? Who else would chuckle as we tease his 'man bag' and the rolls of mints that fall out of pant pockets, stockpiled in closet drawers so in case of a national emergency, our breath will be minty fresh.
I don't know what it's like to be his wife, his mother, his sister, his cousin. I don't know how he was in earlier years or the experience of inducing his anger. I don't know if his radiology patients glimpse the presence of something special as they lie on his tables. But I do know how lucky I am to be his niece. I do know how loved i feel when i read his emails, open his valentine cards, Hannukah cards, New Years cards, Just Because I love you cards. I know where to look to locate soft praise and unending support.
I know that nestled in Scottsdale, Arizona, lives a man who hides his heroics in the drawer with the mints as he dons his cape to save lost souls. I know that it's easy to overlook his greatness, and take for granted this respite in the wind. Its easy to list the eccentricities and humorous quirks, to miss his jokes in the familial clamor. It's easy to forget that this quiet giant stores a heart of kindness.
But I don't forget. I don't forget the years of dates and gifts of time. I keep folders of cards and emails, saving his love as reminders for cloudier days. I anticipate his smile during visits to Arizona and, quietly, while we all share stories and update our lives, I reach for his hand. I reach for his hand, confident it is waiting patiently. I reach for his hand yesterday, today, and in years ahead. I reach without hesitation, because that is his true gift to me...the gift of time, the gift of stability, the gift of love without strings.
I don't forget that I am lucky.
I don't forget to say it back...I love you alot and alot, Seymie.
And as for the date for my 30th birthday, I'm thinking Hawaii...
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