As I often do these days, four days after I heard of my uncle's death, I found myself in a toy store.
It was Sunday, and I was leaving for Baltimore the next day so that I could meet up with my sister and then the two of us would join my dad and my stepmother on the drive up to Harrisburg, PA to say goodbye to my Uncle Randy. Randy was my dad's younger brother, the youngest of the family, and four days earlier he had died in his kitchen of a massive stroke. He was 55.
Earlier in the day, as I was mowing the lawn, I got the idea that Randy should have a motorcycle to ride in the next life. Randy was a simple guy. He drove a truck for a living and enjoyed hanging out with his neighbors while they tapped a keg of Old Milwaukee. He also absolutely loved motorcycles. As my cousin would say, if it had two wheels and an engine, Randy would be happy to ride it. I remember Randy telling me stories of riding up the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the pouring rain, stopping under the overpasses when the rain got to be too bad, worrying my grandmother sick in the process because it was taking him much longer to get home than planned. When my sister was real young, my uncle took her for a ride on his bike, jumping some trash cans in the process. My mother was not pleased.
Why I decided that Randy needed a motorcycle, I have no idea. I don't have any firm beliefs about the afterlife, and truly, if Randy was in the Heaven he was raised to believe in, he was either riding the motorcycle of his dreams, or he was so danged happy that he didn't care what he was doing. Alternatively, if there is no ultimate resting place, or if Randy has already been deposited in his new life, a motorcycle was also of no use. On a practical side, getting a full sized motorcycle up to Pennsylvania, much less in a casket was not going to happen, which is why I ended up in the toy store.
This was not the first toy department of the day. As part of our errands we had stopped at a different Walmart, in which I completely forgot about the motorcycle as I helped my son pick out Power Rangers to buy with his birthday money. We also stopped at a Target and a Costco, all for nothing. Here's something I never would have figured, finding a toy motorcycle is much, much harder than you would imagine. The Hot Wheels and Matchbox lines seem to be completely devoid of motorcycles. If you want a station wagon from the 60's, both have you covered, but not so for the bikes.
I found a number of larger sport bikes, but those didn't seem like something that Randy would ride. I was hoping to find a Harley, as that was the bike he had when alive, and when you're looking for a Harley, finding a Honda sport bike, while still an impressive piece of machinery, doesn't quite cut it. Eventually I found a Yamaha and while it wasn't a Harley, it looked close enough to my untrained eye.
After I paid for the toy and got back into my car, I felt overwhelmingly stupid. Here my uncle had died, his children were grieving, as was my father, and I was spending my time looking for a toy to put in his coffin. I tried to chalk it up to just trying to do my part to remember my uncle properly, but I still felt like I wasn't doing the right thing, or enough of the right thing. Over the next two days, this would not be the last time I felt this way.