A letter to Bernardus Johannes Rohner
Dearest Uncle Bert,
You passed over at 5:30 this morning, uncannily close to your brother’s death on July 5. Karen tells me you had a visit from your grandson Doug last night, and she feels you were waiting for that. Little Doug must be a brave young man; I’m proud of him, though I haven’t seen him since he was a toddler.
I keep thinking of your eyes. When I visited you in the convalescent home, there was a time when I stood next to you and you just kept studying me – possibly the most Dutch-looking of your relatives, very close to your mother’s looks – trying to figure out who I was, I suspect. I saw those grey eyes and blond lashes working very hard. I love your eyes, always have.
You and Myrt have spent your lives being strong for everyone. How dare such a debilitative disease take stranglehold on you! Just as Dad was special to your children, you were very special to me and my brother.
You took us to Rye amusement park and taught me how to get those swings to go all the way around; you let Gary and me go on the roller coaster countless times. You took us to the North Pole. To have an uncle who would take us, along with his own two boys (Amy and Karen weren’t born yet), on vacation is wondrous.
At your wedding, where I was the 5-year-old flower girl, I remember posing for a picture where I was supposed to be looking at Myrt’s ring – so many diamonds; I was amazed. You loved her very much, even more than horses.
Dad told me that after you were married you were worried that Myrt didn’t want to have children, since it took quite a while before she conceived. You loved your children but brought them up the old fashioned way. I never heard a disappointed word, or anger, from you about your children.
You talked to my brother when he was facing the VietNam draft; since you were in the Korean War, he wanted to know how you felt about it. You said that he should notice that the only things vets talk about is the odd things – fishing off the back of an LST, shore leave – because the reality is too awful to remember.
When the family used to spend time at Greenwood Lake, you built an aquaplane for the back of the boat. Fortunately I was there the second year, after you figured out that it needed a keel. You taught me how to aquaplane, but all I remembered was the bruises I got when you tried to get me back in the boat.
When Gary and I would spend vacations at your mother’s house, you treated us like we always lived there.
You married quite a while after my Dad, saying that you preferred horses to women - they were easier to handle. Then you met Myrt. We used to joke that you still got your horses, since all your kids weighed in at over nine pounds.
At my sister’s wedding, you and my other uncle Ralph kept stopping by and teasing me; I swore the two of you were in cahoots. I have a picture on my wall of you and Dad at Amy’s wedding, sitting and talking together, watching the festivities. A closeness like Gary and I had permeates the photo. It’s one of Dad’s treasures.
When I met Bob, we showed up at your house to surprise Grandma on Easter. Bob and I hadn’t made plans yet, but you shook his hand as we left and said you’d be seeing him again – how did you know?
You gave me your gold signet ring because we had the same initials – BJR. It was so big I had to wear it on a chain.
There are so many memories welling up. I was in love with you starting as a little girl – my beautiful uncle, who looked so Dutch I half expected him to put on balloon pants, a cap, and go plug up the dyke. When I was in Holland last year, tracing my roots to your parents, I didn’t see anyone as beautiful as you were to the end. I promised myself a blond husband when I was five – but no one ever matched you, so I gave it up.
I was always proud of how you took care of your mother and Myrt; always there, always ready to help. Dad envied you that; he couldn’t do it both practically nor emotionally.
I know you were devoted to your church; I remember when you told me you had to get baptized – they wouldn’t let you be a deacon unless you were. Gary and I are Buddhists, and as such believe a little differently. The body is a shell; we are here to handle different aspects of life, until we reach wholeness in our soul. I’m sure you had trials and tribulations in your life. Certainly this disease was one itself. Yet your soul was clean; I believe you are now traveling the realms, finding the right one to suit you. I believe your Karma is such that you now have a choice to come back and teach or to travel on to another existence entirely. I will pray for you in our way, that you will pass through without fear or loathing, and find the right path for your next life.
I love you.
© 2014 Bonnie-Jean Rohner