Onkel Heinrich

God, it’s been a long and crazy day. It started with a phone call from my mom and aunt. A call to let me know that my great uncle Heinrich in Germany had passed away. Once off the phone, I wept for a while. Because, even though Onkel Heinrich lived a long, rich life and died peacefully in his sleep… even though I have not seen him in seven years… even though he spoke no English and my German is abysmal… I am really going to miss him.

The day ratcheted into full speed after that. Meetings and more meetings at work, which kept me from dwelling in my thoughts. But many times today, my heart went back over the Atlantic, to the southern tip of Germany where my uncle lived, the place he loved so much… and remembered him.

His big smile. His dry wit. How he played the zither so skillfully. How he would slide a shotglass of Bodenseewasser (the German equivalent of moonshine) towards you at dinner and take your measure by how you drank it. Bodenseewasser that he made himself.

One of my proudest moments ever was on our last trip to Germany in 2000, and we were all sitting around the table laughing and drinking and there’s me trying to communicate in my piss-poor German.. and he sat back, crossed his arms and declared that, I might not know the words, but I sure do pronounce them well. Jawohl!

Our hope after that trip was to start back up the tradition of my childhood, of going to Germany every 5 years. But alas, in 2005, money was too tight to go and now Declan will never meet my grandmother’s brother.

Which is sad, because Heinrich gave us both something very precious. See, Heinrich was the artist of the family and everyone has always said my artistic streak came directly from him (because I promise you, it did *not* come from my mother!). He painted landscapes mostly, idyllic scenes of Germany that make you wistful and automatically half-smile when you look at them.

So, not only will I miss Heinrich, I thank him for giving me my purpose. Because the ability to be artistic has been one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever had and it’s woven itself into almost everything else I do.

He would be also very amused to know that my aunt found a remnant bottle of Bodenseewasser from 1977 in her basement and brought it to us when they were here recently for Declan’s birthday.

Bryan and I just drank a shot of it, right after we clinked glasses, “to Heinrich.”

This article has 19 comments

  1. joansy

    I’m sorry for you loss. He’s sounds like a wonderful man and it sounds like you have some great memories.

  2. creative-type dad

    what great memories you have of him

  3. painted maypole

    to Heinrich!

  4. Anonymous

    I am so sorry for your family’s loss.

  5. Tree

    Onkel Heinrich sounds like a lively, interesting person. I am glad you remember such happy things about him.

    I am sad for your loss.

  6. Sizzle

    to be remembered well and fondly, that is the measure of a life well spent, no?

    to Heinrich!

  7. Sarah

    What a nice tribute. And I love the photos. Best wishes to you all.

  8. monstergirlee

    What a sweet memorial you’ve written about your grand-uncle. He sounds like a great guy. I’m sorry for your loss.

  9. monstergirlee

    ps. Do you have a picture of his art that you might share? I’d like to see some. I love that kind of stuff.

  10. Anonymous

    I’m sorry for your loss. (((HUGS)))
    Diane C.

  11. aimee / greeblemonkey

    Thanks everyone. We’re all doing OK. I got a little sniffly this morning, but we’re good. My aunt said they talked to my great aunt in Germany and she is doing well and that Heinrich looked “happy and at peace.”

    And as for photos of his paintings, I will have to look but I don’t think I have any. Most of his paintings stayed there in Germany.

  12. MB

    I hope that some day a glass of something is raised in my honor. To Heinrich!

  13. zenrain

    let’s toast to him sat night…

  14. K8 the Gr8

    These are lovely words you’ve written, I hope you’re doing okay… I hope someone writes about me this way some day.
    I’m with Monstergirlee, any postings of pictures are you?

  15. Stacy

    what a beautiful tribute…and i loved seeing the picture of Oma! wonderful memories indeed!

  16. chloebear

    Sorry about your loss – I know he meant a lot to you.

  17. soccer mom in denial

    I raise my wine glass – to Heinrich!

    A lovely tribute. And Declan will know him. Through you.

  18. boogiemum (www.boogiemum.com)

    So sorry to hear about your loss. It’s so wonderful that he touched your life the way he did. I am sure he will continue to in different ways, still.


  19. Catherine

    What a beautiful tribute, Aimee. I’m sure it would make Onkel Heinrich smile, wherever he is.

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