I thought of Uncle Tom today when I was driving down 7. I thought of him because I had started the latest Harry Potter book last night and it was so engrossing that I already burned through nearly 300 pages. He had emailed a while back and mentioned how much he had enjoyed it and how quickly he had read it and the disappointment that it was done already. I was in agreement with him on this. Then today, as it has been these past few years, whenever I thought of Uncle Tom it was accompanied with a sense of wonder. Three years ago he was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer. He fought the cancer tooth and nail, until his long red hair was falling out, his face was swollen and his body bone thin, and his voice was barely rasping. Then, to the astonishment of the doctors and us all, the cancer vanished. Not a trace of it showed on the scans and X-rays. In 2002, he and my aunt visited my family the weekend of my wedding shower and he looked great. We sat in the living room the morning before they left and had a long conversation, full of good humor and insights. I was glad Uncle Tom was well and appreciative of this moment in time that so easily could not have been. A chance to sit with him and hear anecdotes from his life and enjoy his sense of humor and intelligence. He also attended my wedding and tore up the dance floor at the reception.
As I drove home my head and stomach began to hurt. I rarely experience either type of pain, and never simultaneously. I even wondered if I was going to throw up for no apparent reason. Once home I checked my email and there was news from Mom- Uncle Tom died this morning at my grandparent’s house in Maine. Despite beating cancer, his lungs were so weak from the treatment and an infection that he has been battling this winter that they gave out. My headache and stomachache went away and tears came instead.
Once long ago Uncle Tom sat at the round kitchen table at the farm in Maine, cracking open peanut shells. I was a shy child around this tall, wiry man with a mustache and long ponytail. However, I noticed that the brand label on the peanut bag said “Tom’s of Maine”. I was old enough to read the label, but young enough that if someone told me that the peanuts had been named after Uncle Tom, I would have believed them. In fact, I think I already believed it. “That’s your name!” I said boldly, pointing to it. “Yep,” he said, popping one into his mouth. “That’s why I like ‘em.”
For Christmas he got me a mug that had a rainbow and my name on it. I still have it and that’s why I like it.
I will miss you Uncle Tom.
“To one as young as you, I’m sure it seems incredible, but…it really is like going to bed after a very, very long day. After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”
-Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Dec 29th 2003Uncategorized