Sunday, April 18, 2010

Way Up On the Hill

I grew up surrounded by my extended family, on a small but handsome farm embedded in a suburban landscape outside of New York City. By the time my cousins and I rolled onto the place there was very little farm left but the easy sentiment of the land remained intact and we all reaped from it what our elders had sown.

My grandfather and his brothers immigrated to America from Italy in the 1940’s. Initially, they were 13 people living in a single family dwelling at the top of a hill all working industriously to make their way in a unfamiliar land. As the families grew they moved out of my grandparent’s home and built their own houses, and subsequently their children’s houses, in succession down the hill. My grandfather’s middle brother was Jimmy.

Uncle Jim was a sturdy man with a wide smile and sparkling blue eyes that lit up when anyone he cared about, no matter how far removed in relation, walked into the room. He never had an irate word for any human being. In fact, the only angry words he ever spoke are immortalized in family lore as he tried to explain the nuisance that was the wild boar which roamed Italy and often killed farmers’ livestock. While I am unable to freely share the broken English expletive he used to label the beast, the hand gestures alone will go down in history!

He was gracious and kindhearted to my cousins and me; we on the other hand delighted in toying with him. We played practical jokes on him like tying tomatoes to fishing line and reeling them in from the bushes while he harvested his tomato crops by hand. Occasionally, he would run us off, but for the most part he took us in his stride.

This past week, at a most respectable age and still recently in his characteristic spirits, Uncle Jim joined his brothers and wife in heaven. I imagine he greeted them with his signature smile and crystal blue eyes. In so far as a life well lived and one that touched so many cannot be regretted, his passing does make me wish for simpler days. New psychology advises us all to be present in the moment and live our lives authentically. While it is sage advice for these days it is nonetheless how so many of our family members in past generations already knew to live.

Laugh off the pranks, tell your stories with passion, light up when your loved ones walk in the room, and make sure they can see it in your eyes!

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