I was 8 years old, addicted to Nancy Drew mysteries, “The Shadow” and “The Green Hornet.” The world was at war. We were inundated with catchy slogans: “A slip of the lip can sink a ship,” “Don’t talk, chum, chew Topps Gum,” and superheroes abounded.
My father, a doctor, was three years older than his brother. They looked very much alike, but that’s where the resemblance ended.
Although commissioned a lieutenant commander in the Navy, my dad spent the war years stateside, teaching at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. He was a quiet, introspective man who couldn’t carry a tune if his life depended on it. His brother, my Uncle Harry, practiced law, was outgoing, gregarious and known as the “Ezio Pinza” of Detroit.
Every so often Uncle Harry would appear in New York and my parents would pick him up to spend a night or two at our house in Riverdale. I was fond of my uncle, this man who looked so much like my father but was somehow more intriguing, more fascinating, with an air of mystery about him.
One day, watching him unpack his suitcase, I saw something that shocked and amazed me and filled me with awe. There, tucked in between his shirts and socks, was a gun! A real, honest-to-goodness shiny black revolver. I knew Uncle Harry was with the Department of Immigration, but that meant very little to me at the time. What I saw was a handsome, dashing, “cloak-and-dagger” figure, a secret agent, a spy, a “righter-of-wrongs.” My own personal 007!
Over the next few years, my imagination ran rampant. I pictured Uncle Harry as a buccaneer, his gold earring glistening in the sunlight as he brandished his sword and saved the beautiful princess. I saw him as a spy, routing out Nazis single-handedly, at least 10 or 12 at a time. If my Uncle Harry had ridden up on a white horse, dressed in armor, I wouldn’t have batted an eye.
In the intervening years, a deep and lasting relationship grew between Harry and me. We spoke for hours about religion and politics and forged a bond of love and understanding.
Uncle Harry died four years and two days after his brother, at the age of 93. In true heroic fashion, he bequeathed his mortal remains to science. He was a devoted husband, a wonderful father, an excellent grandfather and a loving great-grandfather, and always had room in his heart for a little girl who adored him.
Goodbye, 007! I’ll miss you forever.