An old-fashioned gentlemanMarch 30, 2010 at 10:04 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
Tags: the greatest generation
My great uncle Harry died earlier this week. He was in his 90s and very, very sick. I am relieved, for his sake, that he is no longer suffering. The last time I saw him was October 2006. We had converged on my mother’s house in New Jersey, where my great aunt Jane (his sister-in-law) was dying in a hospice nearby. He was there with one of his sons; Tim, though we were newly dating, had accompanied me down. That evening, we sat at my mother’s dining room table and Uncle Harry told stories about his childhood, his wartime service in the Navy, his heroics on the football field at Georgia Tech, the Epping family. We all drank a lot of good wine — too much. All the stories he told, as if to make sure we heard them and remembered them, underscored a tacit acknowledgment that he would be next.
My grandmother, Marion Epping, was the eldest of three girls: Marion, Jane, and Eleanor. Harry and Eleanor met in middle school and were sweethearts their entire lives, until my great aunt Eleanor died peacefully in her sleep about 15 years ago. It was a shock to us all — her golf partner (or maybe it was tennis, I can’t remember) came by to pick her up for a match and found her in the family room chair, where she had dozed off the previous night watching television. Harry rebounded eventually. He kept playing tennis at his country club, defending his seniors’ title. He kept coming to our Jersey Shore vacations, where he’d smoke cigars and, as the only Republican in the room, attempted to defend his political views — often so vociferously that we had a long-standing family joke that Harry had to spend five minutes, silently, in the “penalty box.” He had striking blue eyes, a shock of white hair, and always called me, “Kid.” He was like something out of a movie — an old-fashioned hero played by Clint Eastwood or Paul Newman. When my father died, though by this time my parents had been long divorced, Harry came to the funeral to represent that part of the family. Though in his 80s, he traveled from Rochester to Washington to be there for my sisters and me. Talk about class.
His death is the end of an era in my family. He was the last tie to a generation of Epping sisters. Truly, the greatest generation, who had lived through depressions and wars. Two of Harry and Eleanor’s five children died when they were small. Somehow, he lived through that, too. His funeral is tomorrow in Rochester. I wish I were more mobile and could attend. I’m grateful to have known and loved this true gentleman.