Whitesburg KY

Uncle Bobby



Unless you shopped at his stationery store, played golf with him or cheered for the Patriots and Dartmouth next to him, you’ve probably never heard of my Uncle Bobby. He died suddenly on April 13, although the last time I saw him, at my mother’s funeral, her older brother suddenly looked old. No, he wasn’t famous: He didn’t appear on television or hang out with stars. He wasn’t infamous either: He never violated the law, always paid his taxes and was one of those guys you could just count on.

The obituary that appeared in the local paper was short: “For 63 years, the beloved husband of Shirley (Azoff). Loving father of Ruth & Michael Rich and Richard & Cathy Freedberg. Cherished grandfather of David & Suzanne Rich, Mark Rich & Rebecca Stern, Melissa & Michael Stuchins, Daniel & Sarah Rich and Andrew Freedberg, and greatgrandfather of Jacob and Evan Rich. Dear brother of the late Helen Estrich.” It was also true.

For 63 years, Bob and Shirl were a team. Through the years that I saw my parents’ marriage end, my sister’s marriages end, my brother’s and my own marriage end, not to mention countless aunts and cousins splitting up and getting together and splitting up again, Bob and Shirl stayed together. My cousin Ruthie, whose wedding I went to when I was 12, is still married to Michael and is a grandmother now. Cousin Dick, who we call Dickie, is still married to Cathy.

He was the “dear brother” of my late mother. That wasn’t easy. Their own mother died when my mother was a teenager and her brother only a few years older, as the war was starting. My mother was devastated, wanted the world to stop, happiness to cease. Her brother was getting ready to go off to war and wanted to marry Shirley.

Fifty years later, my mother admitted to me that she never really forgave her brother and Shirley for going ahead with their wedding, subdued though it was, for celebrating in the face of her sorrow. She told me she thought of wearing black to the wedding, long before it was fashionable, and she was inconsolable. Nothing her brother or Shirley did in the next half-century ever really made up for it. My mother’s neediness was a hole they couldn’t fill.

Once a summer, every year while I was growing up, they invited us to their country club. At the time, I’d never been to a country club, and that day of sitting by the pool, with Shirley telling us to order anything we wanted, just sign their name – black and white milkshakes the likes of which I’d never tasted at my local soda fountain – was the highlight of the summer. I couldn’t imagine living like that all the time. My mother complained sometimes about how they only invited us once a year, and I worried that if they heard, we wouldn’t be invited at all.

I have never seen anyone take the pleasure in his grandchildren that my Uncle Bobby did. His face would light up. In later years, he and Shirley came as my guests to the Democratic Convention, sat in the VIP seats with my mom, hobnobbed with all the big shots, and I think my uncle had the most fun of all of them. But not nearly as much fun as he had with his grandchildren.

A family man. That’s what he was. A man who loved well, took care of those he loved, did his best for those, like my mother, whom he could not heal, found joy in football games and golf matches and outings with the family. He lived life well, and in doing so, he left a blessing behind for all who loved him. An obituary doesn’t have to be long to reflect a life well-lived. My Uncle Bobby’s was that and more.

It’s hard to live 3,000 miles away from everybody, from all your family, to miss all the rituals of life that can’t be planned weeks or months in advance. Yesterday was the funeral. I wasn’t there. All I can do is this. Remember him. Honor him. I hope it is enough.

©2008 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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