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Trip with Uncle Harry a memory to savor

POSTED: May 31, 2008 5:00 a.m.

The generation that came before me in my family is now a mighty slim lot. My mother and father both came from among four siblings, two boys and two girls on my mother's side and four boys on dad's.

My Dad and all his brothers are gone.

Only my Uncle Harry remains of my mother's family.

Uncle Harry turns 85 this week. He is a real character and is one my heroes.

Back in 2001, his bride of nearly 60 years lost a battle to cancer. A few months after she died, I went to Monroe and had dinner with him.

I told him I was thinking about going to New York City for Memorial Day.

"I want to go with you," he said. I thought he was joking. He wasn't.

On a Friday morning, we climbed aboard an airplane and were off to the Big Apple.

Harry had only two things he wanted to do, and that was going to "Good Morning America" and the "Today Show."

When we arrived in New York, I learned that tucked away in his suitcase was a rented Uncle Sam costume. I thought I had brought a crazy man with me to New York.

The next morning, we're up before dawn with Uncle Harry, as "Uncle Sam," walking over to the "Today Show."

The producers went crazy. It was Memorial Day weekend and the cameras loved this character portraying Uncle Sam. When the concert portion of the show started, it was a 79-year-old clad in red, white and blue who was dancing in the streets of Manhattan.

We visited all the sights, including the World Trade Center. One of Harry's favorite possessions is a photograph I took of him with the twin towers in the background. Three months later, on Sept. 11, that photograph took on a whole new meaning.

We had dinner at Sardi's, the fabled Broadway restaurant, and saw Reba McEntire in a great production of "Annie Get Your Gun."

On Memorial Day, Uncle Sam and I went to the Broadway studios of ABC's "Good Morning America." A long crowd stood outside the studio, but a producer saw us and ushered us immediately inside.

Uncle Harry got to say hello on the air and the folks back home saw him and were mighty proud of their neighbor.

So was I.

In the years since that memorable trip, he has remarried and enjoyed a wonderful life.

At 85, there is not quite as much spring in the step as there was on the fabled sidewalks of New York, but there is still a twinkle in his eye and a mischievous grin that is vintage Harry.

The one thing that has failed is his hearing. Trying to talk to him on the phone involves a lot of shouting, which I'm not sure did any good. I now relay messages to his wife, Jeanette, and she passes on the news.

Harry, like his brother and two sisters, is not a man of few words or details.

There were times I dreaded what I knew would be a long conversation, but now, I miss them.

I had five uncles, all of whom were unique characters in their own right. I have fond memories of each of them.

But that trip to New York has etched a place for Harry in the depths of my heart and he is truly one of my treasures.

Harris Blackwood is community editor of The Times. His columns appear Wednesdays in the print edition only and Sundays.



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