It's funny what one remembers about a person years later. It's so personal and individual. Even within my family, people who experienced the same events don't seem to remember the same things. I knew my Uncle Charlie for 23 years of my life. We'd see each other mostly at Thanksgiving and during visits to my grandmother when she was still alive. After she died, I spent a couple of summers in Rockport, but I can't say I saw a lot of him then either; he was either at work or starting to move out to Gloucester.
Now, close to the same number of years later, I'm left with a lot of general memories of my uncle - - of gentleness...a warm smile...him playing French horn recordings loudly...his dedication to his work...the tug of wrinkles on his face when he concentrated...the fatigue at the end of his life...
However, there are also a couple of specific memories that surface repeatedly when I think of Uncle Charlie. Both of these moments are undoubtedly ones that Uncle Charlie himself wouldn't have remembered over 20 years later had he lived.
I remember a very small moment of kindness. I was playing the piano, with my mother and Uncle Charlie nearby. I never played extremely well, but I enjoyed it. After a few minutes of listening, he turned to my mother and said, "She really plays with feeling." I find it odd that this one comment, tucked in among so many others over so many years, has stayed with me for decades. I do, however, remember feeling proud that Uncle Charlie, a man who valued musicianship and compassion, had found evidence of these traits in me.
One of my most vivid memories comes from my teenage years. Although I was staying with Uncle Charlie and Aunt Tempy for the summer, I got to see my uncle surprisingly little. It was just shy of dusk on a warm summer evening when Uncle Charlie pulled in from work.
"Do you want to go for a swim?" he called to me over his shoulder as he strode from the front door straight towards the bedroom to change into his swim suit. Minutes later, we were at the quarry, which was almost dark and completely empty of people. With a breath - taking lack of preamble (I prefer a toe - then - knee - then - leg - in - the - water kind of entry myself), Uncle Charlie took a running dive off the closest cliff. Once he resurfaced, he closed his eyes as if reclining on a plush couch, and I witnessed the stress of the day flow out of his body.
Now what was it about that moment that lodged itself so firmly in my memory? His spontaneity? His throwing himself into an experience so fully? Perhaps it was a sense that I'd seen something of his essence, of who he was at his core. I definitely admired the man I saw that evening.
Charles Fisk playing, Opus 57, Willimantic CT
Photo: Robert Cornell