Having had the weekend to think about it, it really wasn't such a bad birthday. It wasn't a milestone, but there were a lot of people there. I'm not one for big crowds, but these were people that some of whom I hadn't seen in a long time. Cousins, uncles, and aunts. Other relatives and family friends that I knew but didn't recognize because it had been so long. The best part, though, was that the fuss wasn't over me. They were all in one place to share with me, and celebrate with me, the life of my uncle, Marty Small.
I wrote last week that he passed away January 27 at the age of 87. It was a Friday evening. It was believed at the time that the service would probably be Tuesday or Wednesday. It turned out to be on Thursday, which was my birthday, but I didn't mind. I had decided at the time, though, at least for myself, that I would just skip my birthday this year. It's no big deal, and there were times that I even forgot. People were coming up to me after the service and wishing me Happy Birthday, and I had forgotten all about it.
My family, though, as sweet as they are, remembered. My cousins gave me a present, which, after I opened it, was Uncle Marty's Lakers sweatshirt, and his baseball cap that was purple and gold for the Lakers, but had the LA logo for the Dodgers in front. Uncle Marty was a big Laker fan, and in his honor, I watched the Lakers-Celtics game the next night dressed in that garb. The Lakers, lost, though, but that didn't matter.
My birthday occasion also created a nice diversion for the kids in the evening. My 'little cousins' as I often refer to them (Uncle Marty's grandchildren, who aren't little any more—the youngest is almost 21) poured 'birthday shots' of Uncle Marty's scotch. While the singing of Happy Birthday was a little embarrassing, drinking to my uncle, and knowing he would've had a shot with me, made it great.
This, as you can imagine, has been a very difficult week, but even more so for my cousins, my 'little cousins', and my mom. Having them take a time out for my birthday seemed unnecessary, but as only they can do, they made it special, even though the attention wasn't really wanted or deserved. I'm just so grateful that I have them in my life, and had Uncle Marty for all these years.
Super Bowl: Uncle Marty loved sports, and definitely would have been watching the big game and likely rooting against New England. If only Atlanta had gotten just one lousy field goal in the fourth quarter!
Rhyme Time: I wasn't going to publish this here, but it's the best tribute to Uncle Marty I could possibly come up with. When he turned 80, his daughter Korey put together a book for his birthday. Each of us were responsible for a page. I somehow came up with a poem. I took some verses from that one and combined it with some new ones. Not exactly Longfellow's or Poe's, or even Dr. Suess, but here goes...
It's hard to express words at this difficult time
So please bear with me while I try it in rhyme
The following list is not complete at all
But here's what I think of when you say Marty Small
The nicest guy in the world, but you already know that
Whether you're family or friend, or have a dog or cat
He loved sports, with great shots and play-makers
The Dodgers, the Bruins, and his favorite, the Lakers.
Going to Dodger games when I was kid—that was great.
Long before the championships of '81 and '88.
Laker games too, but only two seats, so my dad I went together.
But he was responsible for those memories I'll have forever.
Uncle Marty didn't like Notre Dame, and couldn't stand S-C.
That's two other things in which we'd agree.
We differed on pro football, though, but that happens with fans.
He loved the Niners. I like the Rams.
The Small house was a happening place when I was a youth.
July Fourth, swimming, watching fireworks from the roof.
A few weddings too, now that was really cool.
Disco with him and Aunt Judy on the dance floor over the pool.
Thanksgiving's my favorite, though, when EVERYONE is there
I'm not the youngest anymore, but certainly I don't care.
Milestone birthdays for him were never mundane.
Yosemite, Moss Landing, and THREE times he jumped out of a plane!
My mom wouldn't do THAT, but sang a similar tune,
So for her 85th, it was a hot air balloon.
Birthday and Hanukkah cards each and every year.
With money for goodies, and of course, a six-pack of beer.
The Rogue River trip—1983 I think
I was the only one in the group that couldn't legally drink
Forget sitting around, or taking a nap
He traveled with his grandchildren all over the map.
He loved them so much that to them Grandpa's a stud.
He was also my mom's idle, a brother she simply called Bud.
So it's with so much thanks—I can't tell you how much it means to me.
To let be part of this great family.
Aunt Judy, for 50 years, his beloved wife.
The last thing I said to him. “You had a hell of a life!”
A sister, four children, and all those grandkids too.
But I, and he always said it, was his only nephew.
So to a guy who worked with schnausers, tabbies, calicos, and poodles.
As his sister (my mom) would say, “I love you oodles and oodles”
We said it often, so these words are not tardy...
So I'll say it again. I love you Uncle Marty.
And as the doctor reminded us to tell you before your final goodnight,
"We love you. We know you love us. We'll miss you. And we'll be alright."
Photo: Uncle Marty on a bike ride in Chico. I think I was with him when this picture was taken, but he visited his granddaughter Taryn there more than once. I still like the picture (lifted from his Facebook page) whether I was there or not.