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  • It is his hands I remember most. Large and gentle with long fingers, graceful and naturally at home on the keyboard of his piano, an old upright bought used when he was in his twenties and moved every time he did-- from Berlin, Pennsylvania to Tucson, Arizona and then to Van Nuys,California where he spent his final days struggling with respiratory disease. He was tall and lanky and quite handsome when he was young but he never married, though he had a few flings and one great love. That one great love miraculously reappeared in his life as it was drawing to to a close and made those last days bittersweet and love filled. And that is another beautiful story all its own.

    He was an artist, a creative, through and through. He loved music and was a completely self taught pianist. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve a gathering of family around Uncle Ronnie's piano where he would play classical pieces, Broadway tunes, and improvise the most wonderful melodies. He composed beautiful lullabies for each of his great nieces and nephews when they were born.

    He loved books and had hundreds of them. A voracious reader, he inspired a love of reading in us. We never had need to go to the library for summer reading, we just borrowed from Uncle Ronnie's vast collection and he was always eager to make a good suggestion. He had the classics-- leather bound with gold edged pages, science fiction, modern novels, biographies, Book-of-the-Month Club favorites and all manner of non-fiction books. When he became advanced in years he sent all of his nieces and nephews a list of his most precious leather bound books and asked us all to pick our favorite five. As I recall, there were no conflicts and we were each later sent the five we had chosen. In our box came an extra tome for my Iranian husband, the Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam. Opening the box my eyes filled with tears, for the generosity and the thoughtfulness of the gift to be sure, but also just at the smell of the beloved books, the feel of the leather, the crinkling of the pages as they turned. Three of my five were books of poetry, a passion I shared with my uncle.

    Even though he wrote poetry all his life, my Uncle Ronnie was never published. He was in such awe of the masters -- Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, John Donne, Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost and the like that I believe he felt his poetry somehow unworthy of publication and never submitted anything. Determined to change that, I compiled and edited a small book of his poetry in 2007, Winter's End. It was my final gift to him as he died six months later.

    My favorite of these poems I will share with you here. It was one he wrote in 1970 for my grandmother and is sweetly evocative of her younger days in the rolling farm country of Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

    Small Bells Walking

    Down from the meadows the small bells are talking.
    I have not heard them since I was a child;
    Here I will linger to see the cows walking
    Out of the sunset, full-uddered and mild.

    Bells and sweet clover, and watch-winding crickets,
    Jerseys and Guernseys with ripe plums for eyes;
    Square chimes now ringing the chapels in thickets,
    Bring back the days that were lovely-- and wise.

    I have heard bells in the thundering tower,
    Clangorous steeple, the vast muffled dome;
    Heart is my ear in this evening hour,
    Hearing small carols on cows coming home.

    Photo: Jennifer Halasi
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