Ash on a Brick Sidewalk

It was as if it happened a few weeks ago, rather than a quarter of a century, but such is the way time and memory play tricks on the heart. We were sitting beneath a thorny hawthorne that has since been cut down. It stood outside the window of my childhood bedroom, and at the moment I’m recalling it was shedding its early summer blossoms. Petals of the purest white floated gently down like the first snowflakes of a winter storm.

My Uncle sat beside me, on the brick sidewalk in front of the house. We’d been wiring outside all day, and we paused for a slight break before getting cleaned up for dinner. He brought an ever-present cigarette to his mouth, and my brother and I watched as he flicked a bit of ash onto the mossy bricks, in dangerous proximity to his faded yellow flip-flops. A few needles of the yews he’d been pruning clung stubbornly to his shirt, and beads of perspiration lined his brow from the hot day. We looked to him for wisdom, for the lessons of life. He could teach us things that Mom and Dad could not. He knew the other side of the world.

Strangely, I do not remember the lesson of that particular moment, just the way he sat there, rather quietly contemplating the mid-point of a day. We watched him inhale, and then the cigarette was done. It was always over sooner than any of us wanted it to be.

I was reminded of that day when I saw photos of a recent family gathering – to which I wasn’t invited or informed (I’m sure I’m just being paranoid, and that it wasn’t intentional to leave me out, but one does wonder. Just kidding – of course my family loves me, they just don’t want me around. Kidding again! If we didn’t laugh we should cry.) In some ways, I’m the contemplative Uncle these days, minus the cigarettes and ratty flip-flops, but with the same pensive look in my eyes. Always somewhat outside, always somewhat apart, always somewhat alone.

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