I learned this afternoon that my Uncle Al has passed away.
My mother’s little brother, and the last of their generation left us after 89 years.
Alvin Woerle was the son of Katherine (Stahl) and Arnulf Woerle. My grandfather, Arnulf, emigrated from Germany as did my grandmother, Katie. They came from different towns and different regions of Germany, met in America, married, started a business and had four children, Arnulf Jr. (Sonny), Elvira, Virginia and Alvin. Their’s is a story often told of those of the early 20th century.
Now, their story is ours to continue.
‘Sonny’ Woerle died in childhood. Virginia (Ginny) left us tragically and too early with five children to carry on. My mom, Elvira, celebrated her 93rd birthday two years ago, and died two days later. And Alvin, the last of that generation, wall called home this week.
Mom would tell the story of her young brother, during his High School days, showering before a Saturday night out. Then he would sit in the living room in boxer shorts and a T-shirt with a hat. The hat, he explained, would put a curl in his hair that the girls loved.
And, yes, the girls loved him. He was a basketball star, president of his class – and, from the photos I have seen, quite the handsome man.
He served in World War II as a pilot, often flying secret missions (sometimes over his parents’ homeland). He sent letters to his sister, and gifts. Many of the letters were edited and censored to eliminate any information or even hints of where he was. But, the gifts – my Mom would tell me – told her where he was, and more importantly, that he was safe.
My Uncle Al was a war hero.
A day or two after my mother passed away, I received a letter in the mail from Uncle Al. It was written before he knew she had died. He was apologizing for not visiting his sister because of his own failing health, and asked me to tell her how much he loved her and wished the best for her. I never had the chance to read that letter to my mother, but I would like to think that she knew that – and that he had the chance to tell her this week.
To be honest, my mother and my uncle – Elvira and Alvin – had their moments, disagreements and divisions. Find me two siblings who haven’t had their differences. But they were the son and daughter of Katherine and Arnulf and they were forever bound in that relationship.
I can only imagine the reunion of sister and brother. And I have thought of it often today.
We don’t truly know what happens when one leave us.
But I see a dinner table. My grandfather sits at the head, stoically, as I remember him – and perhaps doting on his namesake son. My mother and her sister tease each other and giggle as sisters are wont to do.
The one, long empty chair is now occupied.
My grandmother brings the last dish from the kitchen, takes her place with the family and sternly says, with perhaps a glint of a smile, “Alvin, take off that hat.”
He is home.
October 18, 2012