A part of me feels like I’m not allowed to write about my uncle, because I had only spent two periods of my life with him.
But today, having learned of his passing, I feel a tremendous amount of sadness for my Mum’s family, while also realising that I am more than qualified to speak about him, because he inhabited some of the most meaningful and memorable parts of my life.
When I was 13 I travelled with my parents overseas. Being a fresh teenager, the thought of meeting family that I hadn’t met before was not exactly thrilling stuff.
And yet those 3 months ended up being the best of my life.
Our home base was at my uncle and aunty’s house, and so we would return there often for days at a time, sometimes weeks, in between our travels around Croatia and the neighbouring countries where our relatives lived.
I remember how much he and my Dad seemed to click. Both fond of drinking the hard stuff at 40%, they loved their grapes, their gardens, and their gadgets. Both natural handymen. It was never too early to ‘cheers,’ and they were often caught having a good ol’ chat.
I remember the garden, the vines above providing ample cover as good as a ceiling. I remember the swing there too, and the kittens that crawled along the roof of these vines, and how I looked up at them.
I remember the ‘bunker’ at the bottom of the house, and I remember the random spa-type apparatus that sat on top of the garage! Me and one of my cousins sat in the empty pool as it were, on a hot Summer’s day.
I remember them taking us out to ice cream in the main centre. I remember us walking the streets, and them telling us where the bombs had fallen, showing us the concrete scars they had left on the road. They showed us where their son had gone to high school and proudly pointed out the court he played basketball in.
I remember more vividly the second time I visited my uncle and aunty, because it was more recent… it was when Hubbie and I were on our honeymoon.
Although it wasn’t yesterday, the memories are far fresher. I had the opportunity to spend time with them, now as an adult, out of the wings of my parents, 12 years on. Hubbie and I sat with them. There was still the bunker, the 40% alcohol, and the cherished garden. And of course, the cats.
I think he had a soft spot for cats.
On the few days we were in town, he kindly played tourist guide, driving us around to see other family members. We saw his favourite fishing hole, and he spoke fondly of his own family, and of his memories with them.
I often found myself staring at him and being amazed at the likeness between him and his son.
But what I remember most, is the day he took us to the train station, as we set to depart from Croatia.
We waved goodbye, and I said we would see him again one day. I watched as he turned, his head bobbing down in a sign of resignation as he walked away.
But that day never came.
I think of all of this, and I send so much love out to my family tonight.
I hope they too hold their own special memories of him that they’re replaying in their minds.
It’s just another sombre reminder that we must grasp each and every day with all our might and all our love.