Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A favorite Uncle

I was a cute little squirt but a brat sometimes, too
When my family lived in Tennessee, we didn't often see relatives, no regular Sunday visits with grandparents, no holiday gatherings, no large birthday celebrations. Most of our extended family lived in Idaho where my parents grew up, first met, married and welcomed all four of their children.

I loved growing up in Tennessee, but I acknowledge that more time with the many aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents would have been welcome and enriching. However, I also have very vivid memories of the rare, happy occasions when we did have visitors to that 98 acre farm in Tennessee.

Lately, I have been thinking of the good times we had when my Uncle Art, with whom my mother was very close growing up, came to see us and of the special, simple memory I have of my uncle's kindness to me.

Uncle Art's family lived in Florida, and they came up one summer over Independence Day to celebrate with us.

For the most part I remember running around with my cousins - often down the lane to the creek, sometimes in the field, hula-hooping and playing in the huge yard and sloped driveway.

I also remember that I was somewhat of a brat at that stage in my life, a not uncommon ailment of children in general but of the youngest child in particular. Honestly, I was probably past somewhat and fully in the territory of awful.

The memories may not be wholly accurate, but I seem to recall the night of the 4th of July very well. Dad and Uncle Art shot off fireworks from the yard into the field, and Dad did his best to corral our large Labrador Reuben to keep him from chasing after them and burning his mouth when they plummeted and he tried to retrieve them.

We kids watched the fireworks, but we were frenetic, running back and forth between the house - where there was probably food - and the side yard where our parents sat in lawn chairs beneath a starry but now smoking sky.

Now every spring and summer in Tennessee we had to encounter a bunch of creatures, some not very pleasant to look upon. One of those creatures that I hated the most was the slug. They would slime their way across our front porch in hordes it seemed. Though some salt poured on generously would solve the problem, it was a cruel and revolting solution - possibly more disgusting than the large, squishy, slippery slugs themselves.

On that night I was coming out of the house barefoot in a rush, and, though I would typically navigate around them in horror, I stepped on a large slug full force before I knew it.

I began caterwauling, bemoaning my terrible fate on such a beautiful, celebratory night. I shrieked my way around the side of the house where I attempted to tell the adults of my horrendous circumstances and the thick smear of slime which I could even still feel on the bottom of my foot. My parents had very little patience with me, I think; a slug is a slug, and that's the shakes when you go barefoot on a warm, humid night in the South. But I was beside myself with the horror of it all, inconsolable.

My Uncle Art was the one adult who had pity on me. He took me on his lap gently, hugged me and spoke soothingly to remind me that a slug really is just a slug, another thing of the world. He probably assured me that my foot would surely not fall off, that I would survive this night, and that I should watch the splendid fireworks over the field to distract myself. I don't know exactly what he said or what he did to calm me, but I do remember feeling loved and comforted and cared for. My hope for a fun night was renewed.

It's such a little thing, I know, but I still remember what my Uncle Art did for me when I had the misfortune to step on a slug. And I remember very well that though I had not perhaps really seen Uncle Art before that summer and didn't see him again for many, many years after, I took a shine to him very quickly, and he has remained one of my favorite uncles to this day.

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