Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A kind soul goes home

When I got the news, I thought of the time Uncle Carl gave us a riddle.
"We're going to a place where we're going to have some fun. Birthday or Christmas? Choose one."
I was young, at an age when Poltergeist would keep me up nights, so I had no idea what the riddle meant. What could it mean?
My brother and I knew it would be good. It always was with Uncle Carl.
There are cool uncles. And we have one, Keith, who swam in oceans for his triathlons and introduced me to Queen and even liked some of my heavy metal music and almost never got married until a lady finally ensnared his heart. He sends me text messages. He's cool.
There are funny uncles. And we have one, Clyde, who wears a big, thick, Deadwood-type mustache and laughs like he'd been sucking on helium balloons for three days. He always chuckled and tried to get us to do the same. He loves to tell jokes. He's funny.
Carl was neither of these.
He was the kind one.
The thought of a bachelor bringing two boys to his apartment to play Atari 2600 and swim in his pool today might give some people goose bumps, but every time we visited California to spend time with my parents' parents and brothers and sisters, we got a day with Uncle Carl. We looked forward to that special day as much as any other. My parents never worried. They knew we were in good hands.
We just knew it would be fun. It always was with Uncle Carl.
He'd greet us with his Donald Duck voice. Sometimes I swore he was the guy in the cartoons. Then he'd probably play something for us on his guitar and sing: I'm certain that my brother and I got my musical talent from him. Then he would take us for our fun outing.
The time that stuck with me, after I got the news, was the riddle. Carl liked to challenge us, to make us use our brains. That was probably the teacher in him. He would play video games with us, sure, but only for a limited amount of time. The goal wasn't to burn the day with us to give my parents a break, though, as a parent today, I realize how nice that was for Mom and Dad. It was to spend quality, real time with his nephews.
"We're going to a place where we're going to have some fun. Birthday or Christmas? Choose one."
I still didn't know what it meant when he pulled up to the toy store. I was young. My brother was younger.
Then it hit me.
"Do you mean we get to pick something from the store?" I said.
He smiled.
I settled on a Burger King handheld video game. I probably took advantage of him. He mumbled something about how this would cost us BOTH my birthday and Christmas presents. That was OK. I played it for a few years. It was worth it.
I think, in his eyes, we were always that age, even when he showed us respect for our individualism and our own adult choices as we got older. He continued to call me and sing Happy Birthday on our special day. He would send us cards for every occasion, even Valentine's Day, and occasionally we'd still get a couple crisp dollar bills in those cards. Remember how cool it was to get dollar bills in your cards when you were a kid? I never forgot what that was like.
He wouldn't let me forget what that was like to feel 12 and special. It was always like that with Uncle Carl.
He was 60. I got the news today that his body finally broke down, and his spirit left him that morning. Carl was grossly overweight his whole life. He knew it. We knew it. We always hoped he would fix it, but bad genes and addiction to food were stronger than his willpower. If that sounds judgmental, I don't mean it that way. I was blessed with good genes, and food never meant to me what it did to him. I was able to get that feeling from mountain climbing, music and running. I'm lucky. I know that. Let's just say I ran my intervals extra hard tonight.
I just wish he was still around.
My memories of him will not be clouded by that. I'll remember the riddle, the special days together and the conversations about, and over, video games.
And I'll remember the time Carl took us to his school for another outing. This was always my favorite memory of Uncle Carl.
We were young. Really young, actually, for a bunch of high school students. But his students all ran out to greet us. They were great to us. They were really nice. They were fun.
They were kind.
People want to be kind. I want to be kind. We all just need someone like Carl to show us the way.


Lauren said...

I'm sorry to hear about you uncle. But it sounds like you have quite a few great memories to remember him by

Memphis MOJO said...

Very nice tribute. Sorry for your loss.

StB said...

I would bet my last dollar that your uncle was pretty happy with the time he got to spend with you as well.

Nice post.

BWoP said...

That was a very touching post. Thank you for sharing with us.

Alan aka RecessRampage said...

Nice post. Sorry to hear about your uncle.