Last night my mom called me from her assisted living home. Her cousin, my Uncle Gary, had died. Gary has been sick for years. Diabetes, kidney disease, dialysis, heart attacks. He’s younger than my mother. Seventy-four, we guessed. His father, my Great Uncle Heinz, was from Germany. Heinz was a tall, hulking man with a thick German accent. Heinz fascinated me. But I was also a little afraid of him. Heinz was missing half his index finger on is right hand. His trigger finger. The story whispered amongst the family was that Heinz had accidentally cut off the tip of his right index finger in a wood shop. Accidentally during the war after he had received conscription papers. Heinz, who had become an American citizen, would have to have fought against the Germans, his countrymen, had he had a fully-functioning digit.
As I brushed my teeth before I went to bed last night, an image of Heinz’s son popped into my head: Gary in a shower cap, paint brush in his hand, standing in front of a two-tone cabin. We had all pitched in that day to paint my parents’ cabin on Lake Superior for my father’s birthday present. It had been log-cabin red for many years. The new color was to be slate gray–the color of the lake with the sun dancing of its surface on that hot September day. My mom’s brothers had organized the painting party, and my aunt and female cousin had pitched in. My dad barked directions at us, and the cabin went from red to gray as the sun set.
Gary in his shower cap to keep the paint out of his hair. He worked with his paintbrush on the bottom half of the cabin. His wife wouldn’t let him climb a ladder due to his health issues. My cousin and I did the second story, along with my mother’s youngest brother. The brother who is now helping me save my dad’s business; his legacy.
It’s funny how we can be in the midst of life’s best moments and not recognize them as such. Painting the cabin on an Indian summer day on the shores of Lake Superior. Everyone was still alive. Still healthy. A fresh coat of paint. The cabin ready for the winter storms. I still have the periwinkle blue tank top I wore that day. Periwinkle blue with dabs of gray paint. I haven’t worn it since. But it hangs in my closet. A reminder of the painting party. My mother’s brothers. My aunt. My cousin. My father. And my mother’s cousin in his shower cap flecked with slate-gray paint.