It was a bittersweet occasion for me. My only niece is named for my maternal grandmother, whom we loved very much but who passed when I was only a child, not so young as to have no memories of her at all but certainly when I was young enough that the memories are just childhood ones. My uncle Matt, on the other hand, died when I was an adult, and died far too early in life at the age of 52. He and his wife Rita didn't have a family of their own, but he loved his nieces and nephews very very much, and we were all so happy when he was able to join us for a family occasion. He was so much fun to be around that it's almost embarrassing to say it was really only after he passed that I came to realize how accomplished he was professionally, to the extent that the American Society of Pharmacognosy came to name one of their awards after him. He was known particularly for his work on the cancer drug Taxol. I remember his noogies and his dirges, his skill at Scrabble (a strong science background certainly helps when it comes to laying down some of the more obscure biochemistry terms), Thanksgivings at his house in Silver Spring, overnighting at his first apartment in Silver Spring before the Auto Train ride down to Disneyworld in 1977 (I still have the Eeyore I got on that trip). It was uncle Matt who dropped me off at the Metro stop in Bethesda with instructions on how to visit the Borders on Rockville Pike which was my first-ever visit to a Borders other than the one in Ann Arbor and the first step on my journey to visiting 197 of them; store #10 later moved across the street to the mall but this map locates the Anthropologie that occupies that historical site in my life. It would have been on a visit to Uncle Matt's that I first did that crazy thing of saying I'd rather walk the mile from his house to the Silver Spring Metro stop than wait for the Ride-On bus, and I now befuddle people with that walking preference of mine on a regular basis.
I usually have a good memory for movies, and I'm rather annoyed with myself that I can't remember the movie I saw during my last visit with Uncle Matt. It was a caper film of some sort, and if someone told me the name I'm sure I'd know what it was. That would have been in the early-mid 1990s, and we saw it at the P&G Flower Cinema. At the time, we were all optimistic that he was winning his valiant struggle against leukemia and starting to resume normal life after a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately, we were wrong. Matt was gone much sooner after our outing to the Flower than I would ever have thought. My nephew Matthew was born some seven months after my uncle Matt passed, and my brother said in his remarks at the Bar Mitzvah that there was never any question on what name to give him.
Like my uncle Matt, I don't have a family of my own. In different ways, I take a lot of pride in the accomplishment of my clients and in my own niece and nephews. Interestingly, my nephew Matthew has kind of joined the two, as he's currently taken to fencing in a way that would do the characters in The Speed of Dark proud. And he's starting as he grows into his adolescence to show some of my uncle's quick-wittedness. So I was very happy to be at my nephew's bar mitzvah, with my entire family together for a few hours, including my Aunt Rita, as we celebrated my nephew and in the process remembered the memory of her husband and my uncle. But the weekend reminded me how much I miss my uncle. I'd love my nephew every bit as much if it hadn't been so easy to know what name he would be given.