My Uncle John died yesterday. He was my uncle by marriage, married to my dad's sister Hazel. They divorced when I was a kid, probably sometime in the late 1970s. I lost touch with that side of the family a long time ago but reconnected slightly in the last few years, mostly due to my cousin Geoff's death and Facebook.
I remember Uncle John through a child's eyes, of course...I only knew him as a child. But I remember him as a hands-on guy. He was a carpet layer and he worked for himself, which seemed sort of exotic and bohemian to me. He was loud and funny and he liked us kids, but he used to roar at my cousin Brad...it seemed like they were always at odds over something. My dad wasn't a yeller. he was a fumer, so Uncle John's yelling was probably more impressive that it ought to have been.
He must have smoked like a chimney; I can't dredge up a single memory of him without either a cigarette in his hand or in the corner of his mouth and him squinting through the smoke. I remember that he could casually fix things, not like my family did, with a book spread out on the floor and the serious concentration of an operating room, but like a person who did it every day and understood the process. He owned a couple of used bookstores for a while and used to pay me $1 an hour to shelve books on Saturdays, which turned out to be just enough money to buy a record each week. So in a roundabout way, I have my uncle John to thank for my vast collection of 70s and 80s vinyl and the phrase "I had that on vinyl" every time a New Wave pop song come on the radio... a guaranteed laugh line with Lori.
I wish I'd stayed in touch with him. I have a vague memory that his divorce from Aunt Hazel was acrimonious, but I can't for the life of me remember why. I'm not sure I ever knew, but since Aunt Hazel was my dad's sister, we got custody of her in the divorce and Uncle John fell off the radar. I think Brad grew up to be a lot like him...he sure seems that way on Facebook. Funny, considering how much they yelled at each other. Probably less funny when I think of how much I yelled at Carrie when she was a teenager. The things that make a person the most crazy in their kids are the things that looks the most like the dumb things we did when we were kids.
RIP, Uncle John.