It has been a week since I arrived in Vancouver. I’ve spent all my time with my brothers and sisters… reminiscing about the past, catching up on current happenings and planning future get-togethers. Our Uncle Lewis would be so happy to know that his last act on this earth was bringing us all together. He knew how important it is for families to stay in touch.
Lewis’ parents came from two different cultures. Trained as a geologist in The Netherlands, “Joep” met his American bride in San Francisco when Royal Dutch Shell sent him and his brother to the USA. They were commissioned to survey the company’s mid-continental oil holdings.
After their marriage, my grandparents traveled from one oil town to another; Uncle Lewis was actually born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1917. And with a child to care for, Granny put her foot down. “I refuse to raise my son like a nomad,” she told Granddad. They took up fruit growing in southern California, and there, Uncle Lewis met his precocious cousin, Gisèle. Apparently she dangled him over an irrigation canal to convince him he should do a favor for her!
My father John, and my Auntie Missy were born in California, but the family moved to Canada in the early 1930s where his father conducted the first comprehensive study of, what is now known as, the Alberta tar sands. The fourth child of the family, Uncle Bill was born in Edmonton, and the family stayed there through the Depression. Hard times for all… but at the end of the 1930s, they moved to Vancouver.
Both Uncle Lewis and Dad signed up with the Canadian army in 1939 and were sent overseas for the duration of World War II; Dad on the Continent and his brother in England. There Uncle Lewis met his wife, my Auntie Chris. After the war, she moved to Vancouver with him and their infant daughter, my cousin Pat.
He and Auntie Chris bought acreage in Lulu Island, a part of Vancouver now known as Richmond. Although busy with the establishment of the city’s first credit union, my uncle’s true love was gardening. He planted every vegetable and flower known to man. My aunt raised chickens and geese. I can remember being chased by one that had escaped from its pen… Auntie Chris heard my screams and ran after us. She grabbed the squawking bird by the neck and swung it in the air… I couldn’t eat dinner that night, after I heard Uncle Lewis chuckle and say, “You sure cooked his goose…”
Uncle Lewis and my dad also loved camping in the summer, and in winter too! I remember my little brothers and me… freezing in the tent… while the two outdoorsmen encouraged us to venture out and enjoy Winter Wonderland.
Uncle Lewis and Auntie Chris were my godparents and gifted me with many a religious icon, including a statue of Mother Mary that scared me senseless when I woke up and saw it glowing in the dark. I thought maybe I was having a vision, like Bernadette or the children of Fatima!
My favorite present ever was a fuzzy pink chenille rug I received from them on my 6th birthday. I felt like a princess when my toes felt its softness first thing every morning.
In my early 20s I worked for an airline, and Uncle Lewis insisted on driving me to my 5 am check-ins… “You have to be on time,” he’d say, “They might need you to fly the plane!”
After our father died, Uncle Lewis was a substitute father to me and my siblings. He was always generous with his time, his home and sage advice.
On May 16th, my uncle joined her and their son, Tony, who died before he reached his first birthday.
“If there’s a Heaven, I bet they’re having a big party up there tonight,” I told Jorge, “My grandparents, parents, Aunt Gisèle, Auntie Missy will welcome him with loving arms.”
But I shall miss Lewis Theodore van der Gracht. He was an absolutely wonderful man… loved by literally thousands of people… who could leave this world with a better rep’ than that?