Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The "Grandparent Experience" Loving and Loss

I've never had the privilege of having what I like to think of as the "grandparent experience". Well at least I do not remember much about when I did. I've been longing for grandparents, for gray haired old people, who loved and cherished me, for as long as I can remember. And for as long as I can remember I've resented not having them. I had a grandmother who was still living up until a few years ago, but the complicated nature of her relationship with my father and the distance kept us from ever being close. I always felt like she some how couldn't be trusted but not because she had ever done anything personally to me to lose my trust. Just a lot of historic resentments that had soured a relationship long before it could be given an opportunity to blossom.

So I've adopted old people instead. I've tried to chose grandparents to love and listen to who could replace the ones I felt like I should have been given. Replace the ones who were taken away before I had the chance to meet or be conscious of their existence. Then slowly the ones I adopted began to leave me and the old ache and resentment of the original loss sprang anew.

I'm losing one of my adopted grandparents. He is my great great uncle Alphonsa "Fuzz" Cook. He stepped in, unknowingly, to replace the love and kindness I like to imagine I would have received from his older brother Frank. I probably would not have gotten much from Frank. The more I delve into his life the more problematic he becomes. He was a slender, intelligent man who was full of ideas. He pushed hard against the limits set upon him by his race and his poverty but for every small win there were lingering losses that eventually took him down at an early age. There did not appear to be too many people around to shed tears when he was gone. But my uncle Fuzz was different.

My Uncle Fuzz was cautious and hard working. He had a little ice cream stand that he pushed around in front of a bicycle. Then when he was barely old enough he joined the Navy as a cook. He fought his way out of poverty, and out of Atlanta, a city that for him would always be a world of drama, frustrations and familial entanglements that seemed to constantly threaten his sanity. He married a beautiful, feisty young woman named Shirley and he took her around the world. They got away from the crime, the problems, the servant jobs and the segregation. They made a life for themselves and their children in Italy, Germany, Scotland and later Newport, RI.

The uncle Fuzz I grew up visiting was a joy to be with. He was like a chocolate Santa Clause brought to life; tall and strong like an oak but so sweet that you could not help but to love him. I just wanted to nestle myself in his arms and stay there listening and feeling the vibration of his voice as he spoke and especially when he laughed. I'm losing my Uncle Fuzz, we all are. But I will always have my memories of him and the many many stories he told me about his youth and his travels with his beloved wife and children. I will also always have an amazing example of a couple in love. I have never seen two people more in love and loving than Uncle Fuzz and Aunt Shirley. Even their arguments were full of tenderness and "but, Baby I told you I would" and "oh Sugar you know I said I would"..."well you know my Baby is right I did say I would". Of course she knew he forgot and as always she forgave him right away. She would give him a stern look, he would look truly  sorrowful, and she would plant a kiss on his forehead.

I will miss him and it is an honor to do so.


  1. Your tribute to your Uncle Fuzz is so tender and loving.

  2. This was such a beautiful story of your Uncle Fuzz.

  3. Some nice old B&W pictures.
    Like uncle Fuzz.