I have been blessed with uncles.
I was reminded of this fact tonight when speaking to my sister about a book I counted among my most cherished as an undergrad and recently rediscovered in the dustiness of a bookcase. I have five uncles and I can honestly say, despite the difficulties of time, geography, and context, I would lay down in traffic for any of them.
There is Neal. Neal once materialized from the fog of Fluvanna, Texas at five in the morning decked out in camouflage and a cowboy hat to take my father and I quail hunting. It was cold and silent. My father and I were huddled in the cab of a pick-up truck with my grandfather half awake and questioning the intelligence of going out to shoot birds at such an early hour. I think we were eating powdered doughnuts and drinking orange juice or milk purchased from a gas station on the way out to the forgettable outpost that is Fluvanna. We asked Neal what he had eaten for breakfast and whether or not he wanted any of our's. He responded with a now famous family line. "Shoot," he said. "All you need is some bacon...coffee."
There is Dan. Dan has long been the favorite uncle of my sister and I. This is not a judgement on my other uncles, but a consequence of geography and frequency of contact. That being said, Dan is pretty freakin' solid. Dan is a sailor. Dan used to work on an offshore oil rig. Dan also used to dance in the Royal Canadian Ballet. Dan taught my sister and me such famous and delightful maneuvers as The Wiggle-Bottom Walk and Children For Shoes. Dan also used meticulously to paint egg shells and airplane glue toothpick halves to them creating colorful and dangerous looking works of art that he would then mount on six inch tall wooden crosses. He dubbed these small and outlandish products of his imagination "He Fried For Your Sins". Dan is a badass.
There is Jerry. Jerry was a cyclist as a younger man and has developed a scientist's affinity for cooking. I fancy myself a not-so-bad amateur chef, but Jerry consistently puts my sometimes brilliant sometimes awful productions to shame with his precise and artfully well-portioned offerings. I used to fake illnesses at school as a child so that Jerry, our emergency contact, would have to take off work to pick me up and hang out until my mom got off work. Jerry eventually got wise to this and an end was put to the hang out times, but I still feel like I got the fat end of the deal.
There is Michael. Michael is the uncle with whom I have has the least contact, but I still have quite the high opinion of the old boy. Michael is an evil computer genius and I blame him for my, even now, strong like of video games. We have pictures in my family photo album of Michael at Cape Hatteras on an outing with my parents before I was born. He is in a speedo and has ridiculously large chicken's feet fashioned from sand and seashells where his actual feet should be. There is a child-like lack of shame in this. I admire it greatly.
There was Sandy. Sandy passed away when I was a sophomore in high school. I was in the living room of my family's house with my mother, sister, and Dan when my mother received a phone call from my grandmother informing her of Sandy's death. The night was immediately transformed from light laughter to painful tears. I remember my mother saying "Oh, Dear," over and over on the phone with my grandmother. Her expression was one I never want to see again. I never believed in Santa Claus (Thanks, Mom.), but if I had, Sandy could have been his brother. He was red and hilarious and mischievous in a way that let me know the fun of being a child did not stop when one reached adulthood. I was proud and honored to be a pallbearer at his funereal.
Finally, there is Patrick, and the reason I was reminded of my uncles when discussing my favorite book with my sister. Patrick has an engineer's view of life, a comedian's sense of timing, and an artist's quirky eye for the world. Patrick used to keep a list of all the books he had read and his thoughts on each book. His reading habits were voracious. When my family and I lived in Saudi Arabia, Patrick would write long and detailed letters to my mother that would be passed around to all of us or sometimes read aloud. They were hilarious and they did more to save our collective sanity than the few American television programs we were able to get on a pirated Armed Forces Radio and Television feed. Patrick is also an avid cyclist, and -completely unrelated, yet somehow important - once regaled me with a story about attending a Dead Kennedy's concert in El Paso, Texas.
I have been blessed. Now I just need to do a better job staying in touch with them all.