Would you know my name, if I saw you in Heaven?

What is it that can make half a century pass in the blink of an eye? That’s how long it has been since I was a small boy who, some months after my mother’s death, awoke with a fright in the night. I don’t remember why, must have been a nightmare.

But in the rustic Lake Sunapee cottage that my uncle and grandfather had built by hand, and with three young sons of her own to care for, my mom’s sister was there by my bedside to rub my belly and to lull me with one of life’s more disarming nicknames, “Oh Pooh.”

It was a remarkably calming moment at a topsy-turvy time. I had my dad, and my sisters and brothers, and my grandparents and cousins … and with her reassuringly rich Yankee accent I had my Auntie Peggy. I loved, and was loved, and have had the great fortune of feeling that way ever since.

Even here in my middle age it seemed she’d always be there – of course that’s not how it works, which is why we observe Memorial Day – and when she passed away this week from complications after a fall,  it took a while for the news to sink in.

Then I began to see her presence in others: the spry seamstress at the dry cleaners, my nimble ophthalmologist, the sprightly crossing guard …. and suddenly my spry, nimble, sprightly aunt, who didn’t much like venturing over the Massachusetts border but could outpace her (one-time) All-State Athlete husband over every hill and dale in the Granite State, seemed to be everywhere.  If only that were so.

Born in Claremont, on the New Hampshire (“New-Hamp-sha”) side of the Connecticut River, Auntie (“Ahn-tee”) Peggy went to school in Springfield on the Vermont side, and married her high school sweetheart, Bernie Dunbar, while both attended Keene State Teachers College.

After moving to the Capitol City of Concord they planned their lives around the school year and that Sunapee cottage (which had been their first home) became the Dunbar family’s summer camp, a mere 45 minutes up I-89 and a short walk to my grandparents’ place on the Georges Mills end of the lake.

Meanwhile, my dad had re-married (a truly wonderful woman) and as a construction engineer, moved the family to wherever the next project was, a fascinating lifestyle but one that lacked a permanent sense of place.

No matter, there was always Georges Mills whenever we could make it there, which meant fun with my cousins and grandparents and time to “visit” (as she called it) with my diminutive aunt, who my siblings referred to as Big Peggy – as opposed to my sister who was then known as Little Peggy – and who could make it seem like she had all the time in the world for you.

Ready to listen, quick to laugh and encourage, as I got older I came to admire her lack of pretention, and to recognize how firm she could be in her beliefs, which included a staunch loyalty to those she loved.

As is the way of life, there would come times of triumph and times of tragedy, and in grief we remained close.  “Oh Pooh,” she’d sigh.

But there were also times of adventure and sometimes we’d manage to meet up in places like Athens and London, where with an inquisitive nature she’d want to tour every site.  On the day we all visited Portobello Market, a movie crew was filming a scene.  Years later, while watching a rather forgettable movie on the tellie (“Who Dares Wins”) that very scene appeared and there she was!  Strolling through one of the stalls in the background looking at tea pots.

Eventually I settled down myself – unsurprisingly, she knew my future wife before I did – and when it came time to meet Linda’s parents it was Auntie Peggy who soothed my jitters by assuring me what fine people they were.  Of course she was right.

When our kids arrived there were no finer role models than Peggy and Bernie Dunbar, who’d been known as  the “cool” parents, spending lots of time with their boys and getting to know each of their friends.

And even when their boys had grown and the grandkids began to call, the door still remained open for this moony old nephew to make his way north for an occasional hug and an all-too-rare but highly treasured visit. For that I am forever grateful.

This universally admired song was written by Eric Clapton and Will Jennings in 1991, after the tragic loss of Clapton’s four-year-old son, who fell from the window of a 53rd floor apartment in New York. Clapton went on to receive six Grammy Awards for it and this, his “unplugged” version reached number one the Billboard charts.

But along with “My Father’s Eyes,” Clapton stopped playing it in 2004. “I didn’t feel the loss anymore, which is so much a part of performing those songs,” he said. “I really have to connect with the feelings that were there when I wrote them. They’re kind of gone and I really don’t want them to come back, particularly. My life is different now.”

That’s good for Eric Clapton, and thankfully this recording remains. Even the most skeptical among us have their own idea of Heaven and if by some miracle I ever make it to mine you can be sure that I’ll be listening for a much cherished nickname, spoken with a rich and vibrant Yankee accent.

Tears in Heaven

Would you know my name

If I saw you in Heaven?

Would it be the same

If I saw you in Heaven?

I must be strong and carry on

‘Cause I know I don’t belong here in Heaven

Would you hold my hand

If I saw you in Heaven?

Would you help me stand

If I saw you in Heaven?

I’ll find my way through night and day

‘Cause I know I just can’t stay here in Heaven

Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees

Time can break your heart, have you begging please, begging please

Beyond the door there’s peace I’m sure

And I know there’ll be no more tears in Heaven

Would you know my name

If I saw you in Heaven?

Would it be the same

If I saw you in Heaven?

I must be strong and carry on

Cause I know I don’t belong here in Heaven

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