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What Stories Will You Tell About Your Uncles?

December 20, 2014

As it turned out, it became a two-uncle sort of weekend. Our plans had been to fly down on Saturday to celebrate my Uncle Bud’s 90th birthday Sunday at a restaurant in Long Beach. And.. then my Uncle Vic passed away earlier in the week, and the plots they’d chosen so many years ago are in a cemetery that is also in Long Beach.  The timing was such that my Uncle Vic was transported to Long Beach right away and a graveside service was planned for Saturday. We were able to do a little rejiggering of our travel arrangements, and thus it became a weekend to celebrate them both.

Our day started at the cemetery, but it turned out it was the wrong one. A whole bunch of us made the same mistake and panic grew as we waited for everyone else to show up, but they didn’t. Calls were made, and a caravan of cars made a rushed drive across town to the correct cemetery just in time (actually, they waited for us to begin).

There were about thirty of us. Heidi’s cousin Don officiated and offered some truly lovely comments. A bunch of us shared thoughts, comments and stories after that. An American flag was presented to Heidi (at Aunt Joy’s direction) by a representative of the US armed services per some kind of protocol, which was moving. At the end, Aunt Joy asked everyone to join hands in a circle around the casket and express in one word what Uncle Vic meant to them. Thirty people, and just about thirty unique words, all of which described him perfectly. Gentle, kind, intelligent, friend… it was an inspiring and loving tribute and a wonderful thing to be a part of.

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Following that, we all met over at Joe Jost’s, a bar and Long Beach institution that opened for business in 1924. It was a favorite of Uncle Vic’s and my dad’s.

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We didn’t have the place to ourselves–it was packed with a thick Saturday afternoon lunch and football crowd, but we found enough space in back where the pool tables are which had room enough to spread out a little. Everyone drank beer and ate sausages on rye or pastrami or egg salad, or pickled eggs, peanuts or pretzels.  Same fare for the last ninety years. The bar is tended by about six guys who work fast and efficiently. It turned out to be a lot of fun, wandering around talking to everybody, continuing the stories. I really had a good time and was sure my uncle would have just loved knowing we honored him in that way.

The end of the day was at mom’s.

Since it was a Peterson year for Thanksgiving, Jim, Peter and I are going to be in the Bay Area with Frames for Christmas. Uncle Bud’s big birthday party on Sunday the 21st meant we’d be able to see a whole bunch of Petersons right before Christmas (bonus!) and so we planned a little pre-Christmas gathering of sibs and their families for Saturday night.

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Matt made mom’s famous stew (and by famous, I mean it was her go-to meal for all of our growing up and as much a signature dish as a person, especially my mom, could have), which tasted instead like Matt’s famous stew, not mom’s, even though he made it exactly as she always did (or so he thought). But that’s the way that goes, right? We concluded that everyone has his/her own signature ingredients and signature preparations and only they can make their own famous dishes. Still, it was really good.

Mostly, though, the subject was Uncle Vic, more stories and other family news (gossip).  Here are a few other shots:

Mom talking to Michael:

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Alexis, John and Jim:

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Peter and Jim:

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Michael and Matty:

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The next morning in the shower I was thinking about all the uncles. I only had two: Uncle Vic and Uncle Bud. and they were both a huge part of my life from the get go; I love/loved them both dearly. When we tell stories about them (like when one dies and the other celebrates his 90th in the same week), we draw from a lifetime of experiences and memories. As we sat around last night, Peter and his three Peterson uncles, I wondered what stories he’d tell about them in 20 or 30 or 40 years.

I, uh, took this in the hotel bathroom… knowing Peter was next in the bathroom after me.. I thought I’d leave him a message on the mirror…

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