I had a dream last night about my Uncle Milton. He was sitting in a booth at the Palace Diner in Flushing. He was having a cup of piping hot coffee and wearing his navy peacoat. My Uncle Milton was a Navy Man, just like his big brother, Sydney. Uncle Sydney served in WWII. Uncle Milton was too young but he served in the Korean War. Like all the Weiss men, he was proud to serve his country.
In my dream, he looked exactly as I remembered him, complete with a wooden toothpick in the left side of his mouth. I sat down across from him in the booth. I was surprised to see him. Even while I was dreaming, I remembered that he’s been dead since 1999. I got the feeling he was expecting me, though. My lip began to quiver and a lump came to my throat. “Oh Uncle Milton,” I said. “I’ve missed you so much. Especially lately. The summer before last, something terrible happened…” Uncle Milton reached out and held my hand. His nearly black eyes looked through his glasses straight into mine, which were welling up with tears. “I heard, Judy.” I was scared of what he was going to say next. I was afraid he would be enraged with me like his sister, Pearl, was when she heard. Then he said, “I will make sure to get justice.” I felt warm and safe in my dream then burst into tears, my hand still in his. Then I woke up.
It seemed so real. In typical Weiss-fashion, Uncle Milton was never overtly affectionate. The picture above of the two of us on the sofa (yes, that’s me with a Dorothy Hammil haircut) is about as close to a hug as Uncle Milton and I exchanged and on the occasion that he gave me a kiss on the cheek, it was a very wet one that my little hands were quick to wipe off as soon as he turned his back. But I always felt warm and safe whenever I went to Uncle Milton and Aunt Carol’s house. I loved going there. My grandmother used to take me there quite a lot when I very young. My cousin Melissa (she was Missy to me back then) is about two years older than I am so we would play together. Jeannie is about three years older than Melissa so she didn’t have much use for us kiddies but she was never a mean to us. Lauren was the oldest girl and helped keep an eye on all of us. Then there was Richie. I remember he was always up to something mischievous with Kenny. They always had pets running around and the house looked like people actually lived there, unlike where I lived because my grandmother was an obsessive cleaner. Our furniture was covered in plastic slipcovers so it was never comfortable to sit down. At Uncle Milton’s and Aunt Carol’s, their sofa practically cried out for human contact. Aunt Carol drove a station wagon (Uncle Milton never drove; I’m not sure if he ever even got a driver’s license – oddly, my grandmother didn’t drive either). It was totally ’70s – wood paneling and all. Melissa and I used to play in it sometimes. She’d pretend to drive. I just loved hanging out in the back. It was my dream car.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not so delusionally nostalgic that I remember their house being like “The Brady Bunch.” There was yelling and fighting. About as much as you would expect in a home with four kids. Neither Uncle Milton nor Aunt Carol were perfect. They did a good deal of the yelling and the fighting. But it wasn’t the same as it was where I lived. When my cousins got yelled at, they didn’t seem afraid that their parents didn’t love them anymore or that they’d be angry at them forever or that they were sorry that they had been born. People got angry there, expressed it then got over it. They seemed happy. I was always jealous of my cousins for that. I always hoped that one day Uncle Milton and Aunt Carol would see how sad I was and ask me to come live with them. I thought that they already had four kids running around in there. One more at that point couldn’t have made that much of a difference, right? But that day never came. As I got older, I went to Uncle Milton and Aunt Carol’s house less and less frequently. I really missed them.
I saw Uncle Milton more than I saw the rest of the family. He and my grandmother were siblings. We had some really interesting talks about history, human nature, justice and other topics I never thought to be synonymous with Uncle Milton. He had a good and loving way about him. Family was so important to him, probably because of the way he grew up. He and Uncle Sydney were sent to a boys home because their mother (my Great-grandma Lily) couldn’t care for them. Well, that was the official story. The real story was that the man, Max, Great-grandma Lily lived with (she was estranged from her husband, my Great-grandpa Sam), didn’t want the boys around so she got rid of them. Pearl went to live with another family member who raised her and my grandmother was the one she kept. These circumstances were not ideal to create harmony and a sense of family. The siblings that were cast-off were resentful of my grandmother for being the one that their mother kept while at the same time, my grandmother suffered terrible abuse at the hand of Max while her mother turned a blind-eye. On occasions that Uncle Milton and Uncle Sydney visited, Max was abusive to them as well. I can only speculate because even during our deep talks, Uncle Milton and I never spoke about his upbringing, but I think that this experience galvanized his resolve to have a happy, loving family. He succeeded. I always got the feeling from him that he would kill or die for any member of his family and had a deep desire to try and undo the damage that was done to him and all his siblings.
It was a great wish of his for me to have a close relationship with his children. The birth of my daughter seemed to do that. Melissa became caretaker to my Catalina for her first three years. Catalina still calls her “Aunt Missy” even though they are really third-cousins or something distant like that. I’m so happy that Uncle Milton got to see us celebrate holidays and special occasions together. I would have loved for him to come to my wedding. He would have loved to see Melissa stand up for me as my Matron-of-Honor. But I got married in 2004, five years after Uncle Milton passed away (I don’t do things in conventional order). He would be happy to know that thanks to Facebook, all of us have gotten to know eachother even better and keep tabs on eachother on a daily basis in a way that we likely wouldn’t otherwise.
It will be two years come August 17th that life changed for me and my family. As horrific as it was, one of the shining lights to come of it came from Aunt Carol and Melissa. They share the horror in their ways. But unlike Pearl who met me with anger, Aunt Carol and Melissa gave me compassion, unconditional love and support, the depths of which I had never known from family. It brought me back to how I felt when I was amid the chaos of their home in the ’70s except this time, it was my home, too. When I spoke to Melissa about it (I still haven’t spoken to Jeannie and although I know she knows what happened, I don’t think it will ever be anything we talk about to eachother), she brought up Uncle Milton. It was the first time either one of us was close to being thankful that he wasn’t around because if he was…we would have found out for certain that he was willing to kill or die for family.
Maybe all this is where my dream last night came from. I am haunted as I am coping with what happened. Every new day is a new adventure in my mind, that’s for sure. Maybe somewhere in my subconscious Uncle Milton is there to serve the justice that he and I spoke about, that each of us so desperately needed and wanted but didn’t believe was out there for everyone in this imperfect world.
I love you, Uncle Milton. Whether last night’s dream was a visit from the Great Beyond or an internal manifestation, it was good to talk to you again. It was good to feel your love. I know you are looking out for me and it is very comforting. Don’t worry, I won’t let my little family and yours drift apart again.