The obituaries tell part of his story - a former volunteer firefighter for Haddonfield, a retired artist and model maker, a World War II veteran.
About a year after we moved to Haddonfield, my mom's brother Bob - Uncle Bob, as he was known to both friends and family - moved next door to us. He, Aunt Doris, and their two boys had lived in a small apartment on Chestnut Street, in a house owned by his sister Ida.
Uncle Bob was an artist. When I was a child, he worked at the old Sears store in Camden - doing their displays. During my high school years he left Sears and bought Peter's, the sandwich shop on Haddon Avenue that had been the after school hang out. This venture didn't work out, and he went back to work as a display artist at Hannick's Displays in Philadelphia until he retired.
Uncle Bob fought in World War II - he had been at the Battle of the Bulge, served in Germany, and was a member of the American Legion in Haddonfield. A few years ago he commented that he had lost the book with his unit's history, for which he had drawn the maps. We found a copy in a library. His maps appear throughout, but sadly he is not credited.
He was a long-time member of the Haddonfield Fire Company. Somehow Uncle Bob and the Fire Company became inseparable in my mind. There were always firemen at his house and mementos all around - pictures, needlework, plates, figurines - radiating his devotion. He and Aunt Doris went everywhere in their Fire Company jackets, even years after he retired.
Uncle Bob thrived in the company of other people. It seemed that there was always someone over for dinner on the weekends, even if there wasn't a party. And he loved to throw parties, for which he would decorate as only he could. I still remember the day he came out with a devilish look on his face - we called it "the Uncle Bob look" - and before we knew it the dead mimosa tree between our houses was painted in rainbow colors and populated by stuffed parrots. I think he did this for a tropical party he was planning, but the tree and the parrots remained long afterward. It wasn't unusual to hear the squeal of brakes and the sound of a car backing up so that the driver could take a second look at the rainbow tree.
As Uncle Bob and Aunt Doris got older, they couldn't socialize the way they had over the years. During the 1980's surgery to remove a brain tumor stole the ability of his hands to create - a decoration for a friend or relative, the wooden ship he had begun to build in the basement, or just something silly to make someone smile.
Soon friends began to drift away, unaware of the poor health that was overtaking the once vibrant couple. Aunt Doris died a couple of years ago; and without her as a buffer between him and others, we discovered how ill Uncle Bob really was. It was Alzheimer's. He entered a nursing home where he was back among people - at his job in Philadelphia, or eating lunch at the fire hall, or helping his sister Ida build something at one of her houses. Even in his fantasy world he knew us when we visited and was delighted to have the company.
Uncle Bob died on February 9, eight days
after his sister Ida - we like to think that she
had a project up there that needed his artistic touch. His funeral was
quiet. After the firemen, the legionnaires, and the friends and neighbors
paid their respects, we said our good-byes to Uncle Bob, as he rested
in the Haddonfield Fire Company uniform he had always worn so proudly.