Eight Things That I Learned From my Uncle Albert
But first a story.
Mary and I were sitting in our favourite restaurant in uptown Waterloo not that long ago when she looked out the window and exclaimed “isn’t that your uncle Albert?” I only needed a quick glance over my shoulder to confirm the unmistakable hunched back and signature waddle that had become his unwelcome affliction in his senior years.
“And who’s that female companion he’s with?” She asked. I had no idea. (Although I had my suspicions) He had many friends. They were across the street and a bit far away and hard to see and the female companion obviously lacked the imagination to have developed a distinctive pedestrian style for her senior years.
This story illustrates two things about uncle Albert.
- He did it anyway. Living, that is. He did not let much get in the way of living life on his terms. My back’s too sore to walk? Walk anyway. Or maybe ride my bike. Yes, in his mid-90s he was still riding his bike. He’d tell me that he found the bike more comfortable than walking. There was very little that stopped him.
- He knew everyone … well, not quite. But it has always astonished me how many people that I knew across many different contexts, who also knew uncle Albert. Through his active involvement in church, school, Welcome Inn, and just being generally socially active he seems to have acquired a rather robust circle of connections. Few people I know are as connected as uncle Albert.
So here’s a second story to illustrate.
When Uncle Albert moved to Waterloo (around 2011, I think it was), I was delighted to have the opportunity to get better acquainted. And Mary got to know him too. We got into the habit of inviting Uncle Albert whenever we were hosting a holiday family gathering in case he was available on the off chance that his own family was not gathering that day, although they often were.
Mary and I were hosting a family gathering for Easter a few years back and even though it was Mary’s side we thought we’d invite him anyway. We knew that he was always open to meeting new people – the social butterfly that he was.
At dinner, Uncle Albert sat next to our daughter Sara’s in-laws; Bonnie and Ian. They are both theatre people from Stratford — Bonnie is a costume designer (She’s designed costumes in theatres across the country). Ian is an actor who’s done everything from Shakespear to singing and dancing in musicals (we saw him in Hairspray playing the role of the mother (the role that John Travolta played in the movie version)).
I was surprised to see how quickly people of such different backgrounds could connect. They had hardly introduced each other than uncle Albert was making connections between who he knew and who Bonnie and Ian knew and they were soon getting along famously.
On Feb 28th, the day he died, I posted a heartfelt tribute on Facebook. Bonnie expressed her fond memories of uncle Albert even after a single encounter 10 years ago. He had left a warm and endearing impression.
Things I learned from my uncle Albert.
Let me leave you with eight things that I learned from my uncle Albert.
1. Tell a story. Tell it well. Uncle Albert was a storyteller. And it hardly mattered what context he found himself in he had a story to tell that related to the context.
2. Make them laugh. How many times have you heard uncles Albert start with; “That reminds me of the story about …”.
3. Stay curious. I had lunch with U Albert just before the pandemic. The conversation was fresh and sparkling and his nimble mind continued to be in touch with the zeitgeist of the times.
4. Meet new people.
5. Keep in touch. Even if it’s on Facebook. How many people in their 90s have active Facebook accounts including 300 “friends” connections?
6. Do Life. Don’t just sit it out. (I’m sure others have retold some of the astonishing tales of U Alberts’s most interesting life from Ukraine through war-torn Europe to South America and on.)
7. Ride a bike. Yeah, I love this one. I answer questions on Quora (a Q&A site) related to health and fitness. I’ve been asked several times how old is too old to ride a bike. I used to tell them about my uncle Albert, a biker in his 90s. I’m quite sure that his active lifestyle contributed to his longevity. But he was not just blessed with longevity, but with a healthy mind and body right to the end. You don’t just want to live a long time. Trust me. You want to live a long time like my uncle Albert.
Now I’ll have to change my answer to “I plan to ride my bike right into my grave, just like my 95-year-old uncle did.”
8. [And finally] Do not fear death. It’s the one and only certainty that everyone on the planet has. Don’t fear death … look to it as the door to your next great experience … once your work is done here.
Uncle Albert’s work is done here.
A life full and well lived. And now a rest well deserved.
Auf wiedersehen Uncle Albert. I look forward to our reunion.
Your nephew Gord, still alive.