Day 31 Milford Connecticut June 23 2008
Today was a day filled with emotion for me. Our tour of the friends and family and places we’ve wanted to visit has kept my mind so occupied that I hadn’t had time to think much about this leg of the trip. Today it dawned on me that I would be seeing my late husband’s family for the first time in 5 years. There was a time when we maintained regular contact but for many reasons, which are not important for this story, we allowed ourselves to drift apart. The relationships were always there, in the closet, dusty and waiting to be taken out again. This morning as Jimmy and I prepared to come to Milford to stay for several days with Julia, Jeffrey and Graham (sister, brother in law and nephew respectively to my late husband, whose name was also Graham) I was overwhelmed with emotion. I found myself crying and thinking of the many things each tear was for: the loss of the depth of the connection we once had; the memory of my deep grief for my husband, I still miss my friend very much; the tender wound I imagine I am opening by coming here; the task at hand and all the tenderness and love I would need to bring to it...
When he was young Graham (the elder) was passed a gift from his father of a vast collection of tiny antique toy soldiers, some more than 100 years old. Their weapons and horses and bugles and maps, even panoramas and boxes that some of the sets came with when they were purchased new many decades ago, before even Graham’s father was born. The collection was very special to Graham not in part because his father died when he was very young and it was a gift to him from someone whose presence in his life was dearly missed.
When Julia and Jeffrey had a baby boy 8 years ago and named him after his uncle, Graham began almost immediately to talk about passing the precious gift to his nephew. He knew he would never have children of his own and he dearly loved his (ever so slightly;)~ older sister and her husband, he was deeply honored to have a namesake, he wanted very much to be a good uncle. Graham died when his nephew was only 2 but in those 2 years he spent hours on line researching the soldiers, their value and how best to care for them and enjoy them. He carefully stored them and restored some of them in preparation for the day when Little Graham, as the family still calls him, would be old enough to receive the gift (his uncle liked to call him LG - he was military so jokingly enjoyed using the acronym).
When Graham died 6 years ago I knew that someday it would be my task to give the gift he so wanted to give himself. As I prepared for my move to Argentina and made choices about what to take I knew the time had come. Jeffrey and I had talked about the fact that Graham was old enough. He had begun to take an interest in the small box of soldiers his parents had taken home with them from the funeral.
Little Graham knows he had an uncle whose name he carries and even though I have not been here for so many years I was greeted with a huge hug and a joyful “Hi Aunt Annie!” upon my arrival. It was lovely and I knew that the evening would be easy and joyful with this little boy. We shared a lovely dinner with the family and they welcomed Jimmy warmly. As we caught up and got acquainted and re-acquainted we eased toward the moment when LG would wait no more. He wanted his gift. He’s 8 after all.
I took only 1 of the many boxes of soldiers up from the cellar (where they'd been safely stored since arriving by truck a few weeks ago) and explained to him where they came from and how much love his uncle had felt for him in the planning of the gift. I explained along with LG’s father how delicate they were and how they must be enjoyed with care. I told him the story of how his uncle had talked about the gift and how much it meant to pass the soldiers along and create a legacy.
Graham asked me questions as only a child will about his uncle not being here to give him his gift and I answered them as best I could. We touched and talked about the soldiers for a while and he created 2 small armies with them, equal numbers for a fair fight, and then it was time for ice cream and teeth brushed and bed time. I got a kiss from a guy named Graham for the 1st time in a long time and watched him march up the stairs to bed.
As I leave for Argentina I know I can do so with a heart slightly lighter for this very meaningful task being done. Graham, my Graham, will always be a part of my heart and there are things I will always do to honor him. However, with this I have done the last thing on the “To do in case I don’t come back” list he gave me when he went overseas all those years ago. The final thing on the list that has to do with someone other than me anyway. There is one I’ll be doing every day for the rest of my life and it was his final gift to me. On that list was a request that I “be happy, whatever that looks like for you” and I work on that one every day