‘Uncle Leonard’ worthy of a final, memorable story (The Long View)

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A recent spin of our orbiting Earth brought the news my godfather, Uncle Leonard, has died. 

My parents moved far from their family homes before they met, but after their marriage (where Leonard stood up as best man) made a habit of visiting kin. One year we would travel to Minnesota farm country and Mom's people, the next we were back east with Dad’s. As a result, even though they were not part of everyday life, I grew up knowing my aunts and uncles.

A recent spin of our orbiting Earth brought the news my godfather, Uncle Leonard, has died. 

My parents moved far from their family homes before they met, but after their marriage (where Leonard stood up as best man) made a habit of visiting kin. One year we would travel to Minnesota farm country and Mom's people, the next we were back east with Dad’s. As a result, even though they were not part of everyday life, I grew up knowing my aunts and uncles.

As the younger brother, Leonard shared some of Dad's characteristics, but was very much his own man. The second engineer among his siblings, he spent most of his career in New England, but worked for a while in Ohio, though long before I moved to Michigan. 

There could be a certain formal quality to the way my father and my uncle spoke. In imperfect circumstances, they could come off as a little gruff, like their father before them.

However, much like grandpa, that hard exterior poorly disguised their tender insides. Both men had a lot of heart and a lot of love. When the situation required, it did not take a lot of coaxing for them to show either.

When Dad died, Leonard flew to Los Angeles for the funeral. He showed remarkable compassion and patience, allowing me to repeatedly trace the curves of his brow and face with my fingers, and kiss the salt and pepper gray of the head so reminiscent of the man I had just lost. My uncle was as close in resemblance to my father as any living being, and he let me be close to him because of the comfort that gave me.

For a few summers, my wife, children, and I visited the Connecticut enclave where Dad’s people live. Sometimes we’d bunk at Leonard's place, where he would go to great lengths to see we were comfortable. Long before our arrival, his kitchen would be stocked with our favorite breakfast cereals, fruits, and snacks. 

When other family members hosted us, we’d reserve an afternoon at his place, enjoying his company without the frenzy of our relatives en masse. Telling stories would coax out his inner Irishman. He could go on at length about Boston, his hometown, or the northern Alaskan project he worked on, successfully delivering wastewater and sewage from a new development into pipes below the ground. 

He regaled us regarding the fine care he received at Massachusetts General Hospital as a child, where doctors reattached the ear partially removed when Grandpa’s car bumped Leonard’s head while backing out of the garage.

Perhaps my favorite was Uncle Leonard on a westbound troop train during World War II. It seems the quartermaster pocketed a hefty portion of funds allotted to feed the traveling soldiers, whose three meals a day consisted solely of sauerkraut. He never touched the stuff after that.

I will remember his laughter in hearing or telling a joke, as well as his unerring kindness to me at all stages of my life. It is difficult learning of his passing, but to be with him for a few spins on this planet was very sweet indeed.

Pat Grimes, a former South Bay resident, writes from Ypsilanti, Mich. He can be reached at pgwriter@inbox.com