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Saturday morning as I stepped outside I thought of this poem, at least the first line;

i thank you God for most this amazing day:

for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes That first line always springs to my mind on a lovely day and Saturday was definitely that; Canada's smoke had mostly lifted and the air felt clean.

Hudson River view from Hudson River Park, NYC

As I walked by the river, giving thanks for the day and for ee cummings, the life of my uncle Dan came quietly to a close.

George Daniel Swanson, the youngest of my Dad's three brothers, big brother to our beloved Aunt Jan, half way between my parents and me in age, was a wonderful uncle. Look how carefully he's rolling up my sleeve.

teen-aged boy with toddler, fixing sleeves

He was the last of his generation so now I picture them all together; here at their home in Sag Harbor, which we all thought of as pretty close to Heaven,

black and white, sepia family photo

And here, probably on their way to church.

Color photo, thirties, family of 7

Dan was his mother's Valentine baby, born on February 14. She often told me the story of Dan's birth. Her first baby, little Betty, died in infancy and then she had three boys; my Dad, Dave and Jack. Then she supposedly tried for another girl and got Dan. Some friends offered condolences on yet another boy but she said, "How could they think I was disappointed? All I wanted was my own baby!" She loved her boy Dan and a year or so later, she got her girl, Jan. There was room in her heart for all of them.

The home in Sag Harbor may not actually have been Heaven but it was pretty idyllic. Here's my rendition with what we called the Big House top center and an osprey's next behind it.

primitive black and white drawing of houses in landscape

It was a big house but not big enough for four active boys, so my grandfather, here called RSS, built what came to be known as the Boys’ House. Inside it was just a room with a balcony reached by a ladder with a row of beds for the boys and the counselor--a young man hired every summer to keep the boys in line.

I asked Dan for his memories and he said; "The Boys’ House was built for the ’40 season. Bobby and Davy used to de-pants me and throw my pants and underwear into the rafters where I had to retrieve them with a pole. To pee at night was a pain, because the firemen’s ladder to the sleeping loft was very hard on bare feet. So one of us bypassed the toilet and peed out the window until there was forensic evidence for RSS to see, when the offending brother was dealt with.”

Here's Dan in the Putt-Putt, the car my grandfather built.

old photo fo boy in a toy car

And here it is a generation later with a motor and a lot of body work. Dan is on the right, helping.

color photo of family and little boys in a toy auto

Family times in Sag Harbor were always fun and Dan was a big part of it. Before I could waterski on my own he took me piggyback. That was great, but it wouldn't happen today--I didn't wear a life jacket!

I also remember that once Alan and I were riding in the car with Dan at the wheel and a black cat crossed the street ahead of us. Dan backed all the way up the street and went around the block to avoid crossing the cat's path. We thought that was amazing and never knew if he was really superstitious or he was teasing us.

In 1970 when the brothers sold the family business Dan and his wife Mary Gae packed up their three kids and moved to Kampala, Uganda. He learned Swahili and worked with an organization that grew and marketed soybeans, in an effort to get protein into the people's diet.

Family on Safari, kids on the auto roof

Here they are on Safari.

We missed them but they sent home great stories. They lived in the same neighborhood as Idi Amin and Danny, their eldest, had Amin's son as a classmate. When the official motorcade went past their house, Amin would give Danny a wave.

They came home again, the kids grew up, there were three beautiful weddings in Sag Harbor and the grandchildren started coming.

large family photo, kids in striped shirts

But then Mary Gae died in a terrible car accident.

beautiful smiling, laughing woman

"How could it be Mary Gae?" I said, "the best person, so kind, so beautiful, one of the helpers in life--how could this have happened?"

"Well, clearly," Arthur said, "it’s not a merit system."

Dan was broken hearted, and for a while, feeling his life right as well be over, considered going into a retirement home even though he was barely sixty. His kids rallied around him but he was lonely. And then he met Denise.

lovely smiling woman

She was a wonderful gift to Dan and the whole family. He got a knee replacement and they had an active life with sailing and travel and great-grandchildren.

loving great- grandfather, little baby

Denise took good care of him and he lived to a great age.

Smiling happy family shot

Remember the TV show, ER? When the character Dr. Mark Green, played by Anthony Edwards, is dying of cancer he has a last talk with his daughter, saying good-bye. His words have stayed with me all these years. He says, "Whatever you do in life, be generous."

Dan was a man of strong faith who practiced boundless generosity. I once heard him snap at his brother, Jack, who warned him that his charitable giving was reaching the limits for tax deductions.

"How could that stop me from giving?" he said.

When I was raising funds for a project at my church he sent one hundred dollars. I wrote a thank you note and he promptly sent three hundred. Doesn't that sound kind of Biblical? I write back, "Hey, Dan, this is a good trend." OK, so nine hundred was a little too much to expect, but it was still a good trend.

Since I got the news on Saturday Dan and his family have been much on my mind and the memories, which I cherish, have flooded back. I will always be grateful for the lessons of his life.

Now, because sadness and joy so often come hand in hand, we welcome this week

Jane Lily Ochs Golden

July 17th,

6 pounds, 4 ounces

Drawing of a stork, pink legs and beak

July 27, 2023

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