Wednesday, August 30, 2006

H is for the heart

If a homecoming is good for the health, this evening's hug from Harry should make ensure my old age.

Harry is my uncle ... well, sort of. My grandmother was his father's sister but in their working-class neighborhood in pre-war London, the kids from both families merged into virtual siblings. But that's another story.

To make it more confusing, Harry is also known as George. During his decades as a technician and cameraman at BBC, his professional moniker made him namesake of old London politician George Gibbings. And that's yet another story.

He is simply Uncle Harry to me -- a larger-than-life man with natty suits and jaunty bow ties who would show up in our home almost magically whenever "the Beeb" sent him to the States for some story. I took the Tube to his Harrow house this afternoon for dinner and a heartfelt homecoming.

Through the years, Harry has made me laugh, fascinated me with the most outrageous stories of our family and made my brother and I feel as if we were the sons he never had. An evening in Harry's company is one of my favorite tonics.

But he can top that. Harry actually makes people feel better.

"H", as the family calls him, has always been something of an eccentric. That role took a sudden upward turn toward the end of his BBC career when he was marking time between camera shoots by reading headstones in an old cemetery. He was startled by an unusually tall, craggy old man carrying a metal pole. The man thrust the pole to Harry, saying something about his unusually strong aura. Uncle Harry thought the tall stranger had outdone even H at eccentricity, but humored him by taking the pole as the man tossed a set of car keys into the tall grass.

To his own amazement, Harry was able to quickly find the keys with the rod. He never got the old man's name, but used his "divining" skills as a party trick for several years. Then one day he found he could divine someone's aching joints and the pain went away.

So now it is something of a family joke ... "Where'd Harry go? Did he stop to heal a waitress again?" He never takes money or accolades for his special skill, but you are seldom around him long these days before someone asks for his touch.

And, weird as it sounds, it seems to work. When H places his hand on your back, neck or shoulder, it goes right to that nagging spot you don't like to talk about. His hands become unusually warm, as does the spot. And when he removes his hands, the pain has diminished.

It doesn't keep away forever for me, but then I'm not much of a believer. But it works at least as good as a stiff drink -- with no residual hangover.

The magic is getting its toughest test now. Harry is 86, chipper, but with a weak ticker. The pills help, but the man with the healing hands can't use them on his own heart. For a fleeting moment, the impish delight vanishes from his face when he explains this divining Catch 22.

Damn unfair, isn't it? H has lifted more hearts than he will ever known.

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