last night, i got an email from my brother in law in canada. my sister was too distraught to tell me that my uncle (my father's brother) had passed away. the email didn't tell me how he had passed, just that he had and that if i had any contact info for my uncle's family, i should send our collective condolences.
at first, i wasn't sure he was gone. i thought maybe they'd heard wrong - maybe he was just sick and in the hospital. i remembered he'd had a stroke many years ago but recovered completely. it wasn't until a cousin called to confirm the news - that he had a heart attack at home and died - that i finally lost it and cried.
i finally got in touch with my uncle's son who told me that my uncle had come home complaining of feeling ill and had gone to bed earlier than usual. shortly thereafter, he got up and said that he couldn't breathe and collapsed. my aunt and cousin called 911. the ambulance arrived quickly and took him to the hospital, but they couldn't revive him.
this morning, i woke up feeling completely drained. it was almost as if by muscle memory, i showered and changed and then walked into the kitchen to make some eggs in a hole. and as i placed the egg carton on the kitchen counter, a memory flashed into my head.
i was back in my uncle's kitchen in LA. i was on vacation, still in high school. we were getting ready to do a tourist trek around LA/hollywood and the universal studio tour. he asked me if i wanted french toast. and i realized i'd never had french toast. growing up in a filipino home, i didn't get fruit punch or canned pasta or boxed cereal. my grandmother would often make a huge filipino meal that would last a few days - we'd eat the same thing for breakfast lunch and dinner. so i sat at the table and watched him break eggs in a bowl and beat them. he asked me if i knew how to cook yet. and i told him i was too afraid to cook. cooking had too many variables that i didn't think i could familiarize myself with...
that little reverie reminded me that this small act would really sum up my uncle: he who was never afraid to break some eggs to make an omelete (or french toast).
my earliest memories of my uncle are from my childhood summers in manila. although we regarded my uncle with the respect he was due, he acted like one of us kids. my wonderful father is/was the "serious" brother. where my father was a proud and accomplished engineer, my uncle had tried his hand at many jobs - a jack of all trades. when my father finished work, he took some time to relax before reconnecting with us at dinner. when my uncle arrived home from work, he wouldn't take a break, he'd talk to us, joke with us, run after us... often my lola (grandmother) would force me to eat weird concoctions, in an effort to shrink my hygroma. after a morning of downing a mixture with raw egg yolks, my uncle gathered us up and challenged us to climb a coconut tree and i'll never forget watching my brother race up the trunk like a gleeful monkey... :) i don't think it was possible to bore my uncle. he was easily amused and charming, but mellow and calm too.
later, he really seemed to embrace life in the states. he was a walking NFT guide for LA and NY when he lived in both cities. although my mother and i lived in the states, my father always complained about life in america, how different it was, how fast, how obscene, how depressing, etc...
i regret the last time i saw him in ny. i was in college, on vacation. i was trying to get any job i could in the garment industry. and in the wings, there was a boy in an up and coming indie rock band... i was drinking too much... the "highlight" of that visit was ending a night of alphabet city barhopping, kicking hypodermic needles around a playground... somehow, i got back to my uncle's apartment, bobbing, weaving, reeking of smoke and beer... and like the visit to LA, he was awake, smiling, in the kitchen, quietly making me a breakfast with eggs.... although i deserved it, he didn't preach or get angry, or argue or insult. he just told me he cared about me and was worried about me.
i couldn't believe it when he agreed to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day when my father couldn't make it. for some reason, he was nervous at the church. he was a little emotional. he fumbled a bit thru the filipino portion of the ceremony. but by the time the reception rolled around, he was up and dancing with the rest or us.
the last time i saw him was back in manila for my sister's wedding. he was one of her sponsors. he looked so handsome in his barong. he told jokes while we (the large entourage) all waited in the hot sun outside the church. at the reception, after my father's emotional speech, my uncle retold some funny, poignant and heartfelt stories from our family. and later when he set eyes upon the paloma, he joked with her and played with her like they were the oldest and bestest of friends. she was so excited to hear that he lived in america too. it absolutely breaks my heart that she won't get to know him...
i don't mean to lionize my uncle. he had weaknesses and faults. i'm sure his family had dysfunctions and resentments (like ours) due to extended absences overseas. and i don't mean to disparage my father or characterize him as cold or thoughtless - he isn't, he's quite the opposite.
i just wanted to say that my uncle winnie was a great role model for me. and he would want me to be courageous and break some eggs even if it meant i made a mess or something that required a hospital visit. he'd encourage me to machine sew blindfolded and try spelunking undersea... he would want me to relentlessly chase after something that might make me happy... just like him.
so, rest now, uncle winnie. for me. so i can catch up... :) i'll miss you very much...