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My Uncle Merwin

Without him, I might have never liked eggs. That seems like such a small accomplishment, frivolous even. But I’d been forced to eat eggs almost every morning of my life. I hated eggs.  My loathing of eggs exceeded the bounds of good manners—as a child, I hid my eggs wherever I could find a secretive spot: under my plate, tucked against the clapper of the dinner bell. Later, my older sister would wake in the mornings to fix our breakfast before school, but I was a kid without an ounce of gratitude. I ranted and raved against her eggs. I was incorrigible. The only way I could tolerate an egg was hardboiled with a sliver of butter on it. Even then, I wouldn’t eat the white. I especially hated scrambled eggs.

Then my new uncle came over to our duplex on Colony Road. I was in the seventh grade, and my mother had recently married “Mr. Van Hecke.” All of my dad’s extended family came to a huge gathering at our Charlotte house for brunch. My new Uncle Merwin not only cooked; he put cheese in the scrambled eggs. Miraculously, the clouds parted, the sun shone, and the hated eggs tasted good.

My Uncle Merwin was a journalist and a scholar. He is in the N.C. Journalism Hall of Fame. He chronicled the rise of Charlotte, NC, from an awkward pro-wrestling town to a proud Southern city. He was the last living brother of the four Van Hecke boys who grew up in Chapel Hill where their dad was the Dean of the Law School and their mom a saint. He learned and taught and shared all he knew. But, for me, his impact was deep and personal in ways most people wouldn’t even credit.

At family gatherings, at some point, I would find myself seated on the sofa next to Merwin. I was not unique to this. Most family members gravitated to his side for a spell. There, he would explain to me the intricacies of North Carolina’s participation in the Revolutionary War. Or the true story behind a power play to take over the Charlotte airport. He was a man of broad knowledge.

When I was forced to have my hips replaced at a far-too-young age, Merwin took me aside and told me not to listen to negative things people might say. He had also faced hip replacement in his 50s, and he said those bad things wouldn’t happen. When deep panic set in the night before the first surgery—I was willingly allowing someone to cut me open and insert something artificial into my body—I held on to his reassurance. I told myself, Merwin did this. I can too.

I don’t know if we ever understand the impact we have on others. If we take time to think about it, surely we place odds that our mark will be left by the “big things” we’ve managed to do. If my experience is any measure, we’re probably wrong.

Please enjoy the article about Merwin honoring him in his Charlotte Observer and the story of his life written by his son Michael.

M.S. Van Hecke

Comments (10)

  • I found it difficult to imagine anyone not liking eggs–real eggs that is. Powdered eggs are an abomination and egg beaters are barely edible, but real eggs are a splendid gift as you now know. There are places in this city and I assume also in New Orleans where splendid egg dishes are featured on the menu. I will mention two Excellent places for superior eggs: Guadalupana on Summer and Brother Juniper’s. I recommend them both although Guadalupana doesn’t open until 9 am.

    • After Merwin broke the ice, I had an evolving relationship with eggs, slowly adding one dish then another (sunny-side up eggs but only on toast, poached eggs, etc) then branching out to egg dishes I didn’t know existed when I was a child (shirred eggs in the oven). My first trip to Brennan’s, I ordered eggs sardou and loved it. I do like Brother Juniper’s but I don’t know Guadalupana. Waffle House has a great cheese omelet. 🙂

  • So glad you got to have him in your life and, particularly, share a transformative experience at a crucial stage. Do you think it was actually the eggs themselves, or the transitioning chaos at an age too tender to process? Doesnt really matter though, does it? You made it.

    What a loving tribute to a lovely man.

    I’ll make my egg salad for writers group.

    • I was less than three when I methodically stuffed the hated eggs inside the dinner bell. I was entering the eighth grade when Merwin came along with his magical cheese in scrambled eggs. This winter, one Saturday morning, my oldest grandson and I stayed in bed while I recounted my long history with eggs, which was really the story of gradually finding one way after another to like them. “My Reconciliation with Eggs,” it could have been called. 🙂 Now, deviled eggs are one of my favorite things, as is egg salad. I look forward to yours.

  • You got me thinking about the little things people do every day that matter. Merwin seems to have done both big and little things that had meaningful impacts on family and colleagues. What an extraordinary man! How lucky you were to have him as an uncle.

  • Sounds like a person who left a mark on you and others. Ultimately, I think we are all judged by the marks we leave behind us. And in most cases, it’s the small things that have the greatest impact to our lives.

    • We went to the funeral this weekend, and the photos from “back in the day” when he was a newspaper man were fantastic. I keep thinking, what will people say I accomplished when I pass? It’s a motivator, that is. 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing your Uncle Merwin with us. I especially am comforted by your comment regarding our impact on others. I think we all carry influences that come to us in everyday ways and that we, in turn, influence others. We are more connected than we often realize and that thought has helped me through some difficult times.

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