Just One More Day
My beloved uncle was honored with a Bronze Star in World War II. At the age of 60, paralyzed head-to-toe with a stroke, a small miracle occurred.
“Uncle Davy” was a hero.
That statement is not hyperbole.
Following a multi-decorated career in the U.S. Army seeing combat in World War II, my uncle quickly succumbed to a severe form of arthritis that would negatively impact his life from then forward ... and yet he could not do enough for my parents and especially his nephews despite increasingly despairing discomfort.
He became disarmingly thin after the war, weighing no more than 90 pounds at a natural height of 5'9" for many years before passing away at the age of 60 and a height of 5'6". Though he carried no hump on his back, he was just as hunched and debilitated as Quasimodo due to a decades-long curvature of the spine.
Between the weight, the arthritis, and the degenerative spine issues, he was well-liked but pandered to by neighbors and the general public as a cripple. Enamored of old monster movies, I used to ask my parents if he was a bonafide “hunchback.”
They set me straight.
My uncle fought against hate and was a Jewish historian. He spent years once returned to civilian life studying hate in all its forms, convinced that the Jewish people needed to stay atop of related trends to prevent another Holocaust.
He was there. He saw that tragedy as being repeatable if we were not diligent, or if we turned the other cheek, or if we chose to be ignorant.
Uncle Davy was all for sharing information, because he believed information was all we had.
He was recognized for his warrior spirit, and he kept his paraphernalia to remind himself never to forget.
I now own my Uncle Davy’s physical record of his heroism.
My uncle loved his three closest nephews — the three Eisenberg boys — me, Mike and Neil. Though he was in chronic pain during our formative years, we visited him and his now-late wife, my Aunt Blossom, regularly. Our parents would drive us over to their Flatbush-adjacent Brooklyn apartment, and Uncle Davy would then usher us into his car to take us toy shopping.
Every week, like clockwork.
We were spoiled kids, but as he and Blossom had no children of their own, they veritably adopted us. My parents spent time with Blossom for a few hours; the kids went shopping with our pipe-smoking uncle and returned to their apartment with treasures: “Planet of the Apes” puzzles, “Six Million Dollar Man” toys, record albums …
Uncle Davy had a budget, and we benefited.
He did little if anything for himself.
I have no clue even what he did for my aunt.
David Palatnek was brother to my mom’s father, Isadore Palatnek, who passed when I was two years old. My two brothers never knew him.
Davy, though, like his brother before him, took to my parents’ first-born early.
That would be me.
When my two brothers were born — three years and six years later — Davy fell in love again.
I turned 13, and he could not wait to attend my Bar-Mitzvah.
My special day meant the world to him.
Uncle Davy was unable to attend the ceremony for Neil, six years later, as he had fallen in the subway and was severely injured. By then, he was twice as hunched, and thinner still, as in the photos above.
Thankfully, he recovered, though emotionally he never forgave himself for missing such a cherished event.
Decades passed and we remained as close as ever.
I moved to Los Angeles in 1989, four years after I graduated college, to pursue my career as a writer.
Barely a month later I lost my grandmother, on my father’s side, and flew back to New York for the funeral.
I returned to LA a week following. One month thereafter, I received a call from my mother:
“Joel, Uncle Davy had a stroke … The doctors said it’s not looking good.” My mom could barely contain herself.
I again made reservations to return to my old homestead.
I arrived at the hospital. My heart sunk.
Uncle Davy was resting in his bed, my mother at his side.
He was completely immobile, only able to blink his eyes. The doctor said he could hear us, but he could not otherwise respond.
When the doctor left the room, my mom moved her chair closer to the window so I could spend some private moments with Uncle Davy. Mom knew I considered Uncle Davy, along with my dad, the finest man I had ever known.
“He waited until you got here,” she said. My two brothers, still living in Brooklyn at the time, had already left with my dad.
I sat on the corner of Davy’s bed.
“Careful,” Mom said.
I was. I looked into my uncle’s eyes and told him I loved him.
And that’s when the miracle happened.
Before I go further, I’m compelled to mention I’m not a religious man. I use the word “miracle” figuratively, metaphorically even.
Something wonderful occurred, and “miracle” is the perfect descriptor.
Davy moved his hand.
I leaned back, unsure as to what was happening. I looked to my mom, who saw the action. She stood up and watched.
Neither of us knew what to do.
Davy’s hand inched towards mine, his fingers clutching his blanket along the way.
He managed to clasp my hand … pull it to his lips and kiss it, before dropping his hand back to the bed.
“I love you too,” I said, before excusing myself.
I walked into the room’s bathroom, locked the door, and sobbed for 10 minutes.
My mother knew. When I came out she turned from the window with eyes as red as mine.
I kissed my Uncle Davy goodbye an hour or so later, telling him I planned to come back.
I returned to my home in Los Angeles the following evening. I fell immediately to sleep, and received a phone call at 6AM.
“Uncle Davy died this morning.”
Days forever imprinted.
I remember the hospital scene and my mom’s informing me of Uncle Davy’s death like both happened yesterday. I attended my second funeral that season, which represented to me a formal passing of my youth as my close relatives began to fall ill, and pass away.
Good fortune shone upon my two brothers and me as children. We were lucky, having been born and raised in a loving family and being treasured by some very special people.
Our Uncle Davy was truly one of a kind.
I wish we had just one more day.
Thank you for reading.
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