Saturday, February 7, 2009
My Uncle Jack
I say "My" Uncle Jack because this is the Uncle Jack that I knew many years ago. I haven't seen him in over thirty years and have not really been in touch except for sending him Christmas cards. I have heard about him through others and some know him differently than I know him. I was his only niece on this side of the family and to be honest, maybe I was the only one who could really call him uncle. Here I want to share about "my" Uncle Jack so others can know what he was like back then.
When we lived in Granby, we had this huge flat green front lawn that was ideal for croquet. I can remember this time when my Uncle Jack came to visit and he played croquet with me. I was probably around 5 and he around 17. I loved playing with him. When we got to the last wicket, which was near the road, I won. Now, of course, in retrospect, I'm sure he let me win.
I remember him putting down the mallet and pretending to be mad and walking off down the road. He said he was leaving. I was crying and upset and my mother, his only sister, had to tell him to stop that. He was a tease.
Years later I remember the time my mother was listening to the birds and whistling back to one. It was a cat bird, who are known to sometimes mock noises. At first I was amazed too but then I saw my uncle. He was whistling back as the bird. We shared the secret for a few moments. When Mom caught on she could have hit him. He was a tease and he had a sense of humor.
After he came home from the Navy and we lived in East Hartland, he came to live with us for a bit. I was thrilled. It was like having a big brother. I did learn that big brothers have certain issues. I learned to fearfully respect his pride in a clean car--inside and out. I remember being warned not to get dirt in it when I stepped inside.
Two of the pictures above are from Thanksgiving. I have to laugh now--suit and tie for a special home cooked meal for just the four of us. Things sure have changed.
One of the worst things about my Uncle Jack was what a grouch he was when he woke up. My Mom often made me wake him--that was something no one would want to do. He woke up so angry. I hated it. You learned to keep your distance in his waking hours.
The most special memory was the time he took me on a date with his date, Denise. (I still run into Denise and she has asked about him.) If I were to guess, I think I may have been around ten years old. This was my first time to a restaurant. I felt like such a lady ordering off the menu. I believe I had pork chops. Then we went to the movies and saw "Lady and the Tramp". That was my first time to an indoor theater. Our family always went to the drive-in. I always think of Uncle Jack when I see "Lady and the Tramp". To top the evening off we went to Denise's home where her mother gave us iced coffee--how grown up! I had never had it and I didn't like it, however, that did not ruin the perfect date--one I have never forgotten. I love that fond memory.
I will be honest all was not perfect. Uncle Jack had money problems. I was too young to know, but I think he spent beyond his means. I remember one day being home alone with my mother when a bill collector came. In those days they would come to your door. It was pretty scary.
In retrospect, perhaps a few of the gifts that he bought me, perhaps he shouldn't have since money was an issue, but I treasured many of the things that he gave me. Some were mailed to me after he was married like the peppermint stick that had to be two feet tall and three inches wide--we had to use a hammer to break off pieces to eat. I clung on to other gifts that he gave me like the donkey pinata. Never had the heart to use it for it's intended purpose--hung it as a decoration for a while, but now it's stored in my basement. I finally donated the UCLA sweatshirt to Goodwill a few years ago. The ocean in a bottle was a fun and relaxing gift which I loved and still have. He introduced us to See's chocolates which we learned to love.
My favorite gifts were a birthstone ring and an ID bracelet. The bracelet was gold and engraved, "Deb"--that was a nickname mostly used by him and my parents. Most other people call me Debbie. I was heartbroken the day, as an adult, that I lost it. I re-traced my steps and did everything I could to try and find it. I know that someone "inherited" my treasure in Torrington. I was sick about losing that.
I vaguely remember going to his wedding in New Jersey. I remember when he had his first son and meeting him. It wasn't long after that that they moved to California.
In 1975 I was so pleased that he spent the time and money to come to my wedding. He also gave a very generous money gift. That was the last time that I saw him (and the last time my mother did too). He always talked about coming back to visit, but it just never happened.
I am so glad that a few years ago I wrote him a note about the memory of the "date" and how much he meant to me. I am glad I did that while he was alive. As I write this he is dying of abdominal cancer in a hospital in California. We are just waiting for the call. I am sad we lost many years of our relationship and to know that I won't see him again in this lifetime, but I am so thankful for the happy memories that I do have and I will cherish those always. Thank you, Uncle Jack. I love you and I hope you rest in peace.