This past week, I have been called away from the Berkshires. My uncle, my father's eldest brother, has been ill for a long time, and a week ago, we lost him.

So as I look toward next week, toward the spring equinox and Easter eggs and Passover, I am still back there, in Virginia last weekend, climbing out of my dad's car with my parents and my brother to hug far-flung cousins before the memorial. My sister and her boyfriend, just off a Red-eye flight, come into the hall to hold us.

We are at the grave side, and a Marine sergeant folds the flag carefully, easing and straightening the seams, not rushed by our silence.

We sit in a church of simple lines and clear glass windows. Family have told stories of him -- my dad of his childhood, college friends of his young days, his niece of his prime, a neighbor of his maturity and retirement, his youngest grandchild and his son of his last illness. My mom, beside me, and I look out at the budding trees and try to sing "Lord of the Dance" in full voice. I keep having to stop.

Gathered at my aunt's house, cousins who have not met in eight years share that time, while a nine-month-old Staffordshire terrier pup gently meets the household. My uncle's youngest grand-daughter, 10 and here from Mexico, talks in Spanish to her older cousin, recently returned from Cairo and studying Arabic.

It is very real still, their voices, the Virginia ham biscuits and orange ambrosia, the firelight, the family reconnecting in the town where my dad was a child.


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We stopped to see the faculty house where he climbed the statue in the back garden and the quad where he hid marbles and messages at the base of the flag pole.

Here my uncle and aunt met at a dance in their teens. Here he went to classes at the university where his father taught. And he would set out, as we did, on weekend mornings to drive the long route from the Blue Ridge to New England.

Not far south of here in high school, he once told me, he would slip off campus to work on local farms.

At my grandparents' farm in the summers, he would fish and stack hay -- and, later, challenge us to water fights.

He used to tell me he would make me pancakes for breakfast -- if I got up at 6 a.m., when he did.

Time passes. He has not gotten up at 6 a.m. in some years, and if I am awake at dawn, I am more likely to be still awake after a long deadline.

I can only promise to go on being awake -- and bring you back a progress report.

The magnolia are budding in Charlottesville, and the redbud are in bloom. Outside Washington, D.C., purple crocus are up and mallards have landed, though the wood ducks have not yet appeared. Geese are flying, and robins are foraging.

And in southern Connecticut, the winter aconite and snow drops have come.

Spring is on its way. The frontrunners are almost in sight already.