“When you’re alone and life is making you lonely, You can always go…Downtown” – Downtown by Petula Clark
They were small in stature but lived a big life. For my uncle and aunt, size did not matter! Both stood five-feet or less yet they enjoyed life to the fullest!
I had the honor and privilege of attending one of the more memorable services in my lifetime. What a blessing to live with your best friend, forever lover, mother of your children, and the most beautiful woman you have ever laid eyes on.
This was the love story of two people who overcame many obstacles and chose to see life as a joyous occasion no matter the circumstances.
So what is with the old pop song Downtown?
Here is my tribute to my aunt and uncle….
His good friend told him about his sister and how they should meet – he arranged the meeting to take place at a local market. Dating soon followed and eventually, they married in 1960. They overcame obstacles such as learning how to speak English, living in a world where practically everyone was taller than they were, he worked in the sheet metal industry and she went back to work as a keypunch operator. In spite of these challenges, they raised three children and enjoyed their grandbabies (who are now adults).
Their legacy of love was shared at the Veteran’s Memorial Building (he served as a soldier in the US Army). We learned that after high school, my uncle traveled the world and though he served the US during peace time, he learned about discipline which he passed onto his children.
The hall was filled with family and friends who loved my aunt and uncle. The pastor was a long-time neighbor across the street. The US flag was unfolded and snapped and held up in full display while another played TAPS at the back of the hall. Then it was folded back in traditional order and presented to my cousin, the last male in the family’s blood line. All active and retired military, law enforcement and fire fighters were invited to come to the front to salute my uncle and the US flag that my cousin held on his lap. No one spoke as the long line of officers and first responders paid respect to my uncle. This was very moving to see the many people including my brother and another cousin take their turns.
Next, the eulogies were read by a chosen family member from each side (a nephew from my aunt’s side and a niece from the uncle’s side). The niece happened to be their flower girl at their wedding in 1960. This made it special as each took turns to share the lives of the dearly departed couple. The coordinator, my cousin and their second daughter, organized the entire event with much help from others. However, the eulogies were read separately until the day my aunt and uncle became as one. Then the microphone was passed back and forth as the eulogies captured their lives together.
Then came the grandchildren who read their accounts of spending time with grandma and grandpa (“Gung-Gung”). They described how they loved visiting their grandparents who had the pantry and refrigerator stocked with plenty of unhealthy snacks and drinks since their parents always tried to make them eat healthy at home. They recalled being in grandkid heaven as they were allowed to jump on furniture and use pillows to slide down the stairs. While they were enjoying their time with grandma and grandpa, they knew to respect their elders as well.
One time, when the granddaughter was approaching her 10th birthday, her mother asked her what she wanted as a present. She said “Hawaii” to which her mother thought What a diva! In fun, the mother told grandma about it.
What did grandma say?
OK. That is where I will take her. They went to Hawaii that year.
Yes, they doted over their grandchildren and always found ways to make things happen – no obstacle was too great for them.
One thing my aunt had always wanted and expressed her desire to my uncle during their years – she always wanted a Buick. So one day, they arrived in a brand new Buick and where was my auntie? She was barely seen above the dashboard (she stood less than 4-feet, 10-inches). What a sight to behold and I wished I was there to have seen this wonderful woman in her Buick.
The service shifted to the slide show where many pictures revealed their beautiful life together. Another one of my cousins, a concert pianist, had the honor to play their favorite songs on the old upright piano. She timed it perfectly with the slide show and one song in particular was fun to hear – Downtown.
When the slide show ended, the pastor shared the backstory of Downtown.
This was my aunt and uncle’s favorite song – they loved it so much that they often played the old record until the needle of the turntable wore out. Eventually, with digital technology , they were thrilled to rediscover their song.
Of course, my uncle always loved a good laugh so what did he do with their song?
He changed one word when he sang this song. He would replace the word Downtown with, you guessed it…
My aunt would always laugh when he sang this song with “his” lyric as this made it special for her. In fact, his nickname for his bride was “Downtown“. Even when she was mad at him, he would simply say “Downtown” which would ease the tension and bring a smile to her face.
The service ended with their son sharing his thoughts about history. He always wondered why his father would always retell the same old stories. It wasn’t until recently that he had an epiphany. His father would always tell the same old stories because he did not want his children to forget their Chinese culture. It was my uncle’s way of passing down stories to the next generation.
In the latter part of 2017, my uncle had a bad fall and was admitted to the hospital at the same time that my aunt was there. She was blind and his fall affected his speech. No matter their circumstances – they knew no obstacles!
They spent many hours holding hands and reflecting upon their journey together. They learned how to ballroom dance and enjoyed many cruises whether it was with friends, family, or just the two of them. They absolutely adored their grandchildren and managed to own three homes.
During her last hours, they held hands knowing the time was near. He managed to sing Downtown one last time as she listened intently. When the song was over, his Downtown took her last breath as if she waited with all her might to hear him sing their favorite song and most importantly, to hear him say Downtown one last time.
To live a lifetime which all began at a local market – what an honor to be taken down memory lane at their memorial service.
I hummed that song the rest of the evening and played it this morning while listening to Petula Clark’s words very carefully. This song will never be the same for me, ever again.
When I hear the word Downtown, I will remember my aunt and when I need a laugh, I will use my uncle’s special word in their song –
Rest well auntie and uncle – we will miss you dearly.