Sept. 14, 2010
Here is how my mother told it: When she and my father arrived in Bangkok, Thailand, they instantly fell in love with the country. And they made friends -- Joann and Reeve (Hank) Hankins, and Mary Beth and Richard (Dick) Conlin -- who would go on to be their best friends for the rest of their lives. Early on they merged portions of each surname and came up with a collective noun for the three families: havoc. Great word, poor description.
Every two years -- long after the Conlins had moved to California and the Vourvouliad had moved to Guatemala -- the families continued to get together. The six parents were all aunts and uncles, and the second-gen havocs knew one another better, in some cases, than we knew our blood cousins. After one memorable “home leave” spent tooling around the American Southwest, the six adult havocs considered building three interconnected homes (the compound laid out in the shape of a turtle, if I recall properly) in Sedona, Ariz.
All kids have their favorites and mine were Aunt Joann (who convinced me Sarah Lawrence College turned out the best combination of funny and smart) and Uncle Dick. Here, let me give you part of the picture: He introduced me to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins; was an enthusiastic participant when coerced into joining role-playing-games; and had once been in a genuine, storied Chinese opium den.
Conversation was never better than when Uncle Dick was around. He was a superb storyteller and could speak with authority on nearly any topic. Even in middle of a bridge or cribbage game. Maybe especially then.
Tonight, after finding out that he died, my daughter sat with me for a while. I noticed her watching me closely. She has seen me through the death of my parents, and she knows that I never quite manage to finish saying goodbye to people who own a piece of my heart. Uncle Dick was the last of the original havoc bunch and so his passing is doubly sad for me. I miss my parents and my “uncles” and “aunts” whose lives were rich with mutual love and zest for life. But, so long as we live, they too shall live. They are a part of us. And we remember.
May the choirs of angels
come to greet you.
May they lead you into paradise.
May the Lord enfold you
in His presence.
May you have eternal life.