I’ve been neglecting this blog for the last little bit as my sister and I arranged the memorial service and burial of our only cousin on my mother’s side, Carl. Carl was a special kind of guy. He had Asburger’s Syndrome, which is a form of autism. Carl could communicate with the world, but he had a hard time relating to it. He went undiagnosed for many years and, of course, everyone just thought he was kind of strange. He did have a fixation (most Asburger’s victims do) with trains. He had a train set in his basement that would rival the most elaborate set-up at FAO Shwartz. When we went through his house (the one he grew up and lived in his entire life), everything was pretty much a mess. Carl wasn’t a housekeeper and there were piles of papers all over the house. The basement train set was gone, replaced with mounds of moldy boxes and dusty knicknacks. But when we opened a padlocked closet, there were all his train cars, put back in their original boxes and neatly stacked on some shelves. It was the only orderly thing in his house, perhaps in his life.
Carl died of a massive heart attack sitting in his car at a trainyard in South Chicago where he’d gone to take photos. It was a pretty spectacular exit. Louise and I scattered some of his ashes on some train tracks before we buried the cremains (isn’t that a creepy word?) with his mother in Jacksonville, Ill.
The coolest thing about Carl is that the last few years of his life were full of companionship and fun. He became an avid anti-war protestor (he was even interviewed on television at a rally). He joined an Asberger’s support group and made lots of friends. We were worried that no one would show up at his memorial service and almost 50 people were there. My aunt, his mother, was very fearful about Carl’s future after she was gone. Auntie, you needn’t have worried. He turned out fine.
One of the great things about the Internet and blogs is that folks who walked this earth, breathed the same air as the rest of us, and died almost anonymously can be remembered and memorialized. I was not the best cousin in the world to him. I should have tried harder. I flew up to Chicago last week and got Carl’s car for my 17-year-old son. It’s a pretty nice Ford Focus. I thought I’d be a little squemish about driving a car that someone had died in, but it turned out to be oddly comforting.