I don’t know if you are aware of this, but I have idolized you forever. As a child I thought you were funny and fun to be around. You always had the most interesting things to look at. Old books, National Geographic magazines, and yes, I admit, David and I would look at the pictures and laugh! Rotten children we were! It didn’t occur to me until much later that you actually read all those magazines, that you knew every piece of information in those big books of yours. I spent my time at your house looking at the statues and playing old songs on your eight track stereo. Songs like “A Boy Named Sue” and you let me play that over and over until perhaps that may have been when you called my mother to come get me?
As a teenager I would come to work with you at the City Store in Oak Square. You said you didn’t want to stop working completely just because you were retired. I remember walking there when you didn’t expect me, just because you were the coolest uncle a girl could have. My friends would say, “That’s your uncle that works at the city store? That guy is awesome!”
I remember you talking about moving to Vermont, my whole life I heard you say that and then one day you did. I missed you then. I guess I really didn’t understand why you had to go there.
When I was twenty, my mother, your sister, she bought a one way bus ticket and handed it to me. “I think you should go visit your uncle.” she said with some finality. I knew she didn’t want me to come back. I was a regular pain in her ass. My father was sick with stomach cancer at the time and I was to much to handle with everything that was going on.
I got on the bus in south station and off again in Rutland Vermont. I wore my head phones on the bus, listening to Guns & Roses and staring out the window. That was the day I decided my favorite Guns & Roses song was “Rocket Queen”. So I stood on the side walk searching the faces of people while I looked for you. When I saw you my heart leapt and I remember realizing that you had gotten older.
Looking back now, you weren’t that old. After 20 years in the Air Force, you retired at a relatively young age. 40 I think you said. Of course, when I was 20 I thought 40 was near death.
We got to your little silver pick up, I guess you could say I was a bit nervous. Coming from Boston into Rutland was a bit of culture shock and you didn’t live in Rutland. We talked as though I was just visiting on the ride to your house in Middletown Springs. Turning off the main road onto that dirt road, up that long treacherous hill in the snow, it was like entering no man’s land.
My mind being the way that it is, there was an explosion of imaginations, limited only by the fact that it was dark and I couldn’t see much. We entered and you immediately put the kettle on for tea before taking the dogs outside. I would soon find out that you drank tea all day, everyday. I would also be informed that you now held a job at the country store. The only store that I know of in the town. You told me once again that you didn’t want to stop working just because you were retired, but you also let me know now that you needed that bit of extra cash. Three days a week you went there.
You and I, we spent a lot of time playing cards and talking. I found out then that you really did read all those books of yours, your collection of National Geographic was even larger and you still had that old stereo. You told me how much you loved history and taught me why it is so important.
“History repeats itself” you said. I use that in my life. I go over the parts of my life until I know what happened and why, so that I can learn how to either avoid or move towards something.
You taught me so many things about life, about myself. I remember when we would go out, everywhere we went I would wear those headphones, listening to Guns & Roses and you would get upset with me.
“Will you take those damn things off and look out the window?” you would say in an exasperated voice. I remember once you said “Take those fucking things off!” I would just look at you and say “No, I like them.”
You know what I wish Lenny? I wish you had been with me the day I did look out the window. I was riding in the passenger seat of Alan’s car. I believe it was Route 4 we were on and I turned and looked and what I saw took my breath away. Those mountains rose up before me and the beauty was stunning. I will never forget that moment and I wish you had been there because it was something undoubtedly given to me by you. I remember thinking “That’s what he was talking about.”
I remember you teaching me to make my bed properly as I stared at you in disbelief. Making my bed wasn’t something I usually did at all. You told me that I was going to pull my own weight if I was going to live with you. I was in charge of feeding Mike and Ike, your two sheep. I was expected to carry in half the wood to burn, cook every other night and wash dishes on the nights you cooked. I helped you by taking the dogs out at night, up until the night I saw the bobcat stop and stare at me from the stone wall. You gave me a break from that after that incident.
Do you remember my asking you what those tracks were and you told me to figure it out for myself? I spent probably an hour traipsing around in the snow, imaging sasquatch living on that mountain until I finally came in sulking because I realized they were rabbit tracks. You laughed at me!
Remember I ran out of toiletries and you handed me a box of baking soda? You said to use that as deodorant and toothpaste, because if I wanted those things I needed to earn them. At the time I didn’t realize you were building up to something. Soon after I woke up and came to the kitchen and you were bustling about. I asked you where you were going and you told me to the laundry matt.
“Oh good, I need clean clothes!” I said.
“Do you have money?” you asked.
I told you no and you wanted to know how I was going to pay for it. I stood staring at you as you let me know that you were not going to pay for me to wash my clothes.
“What am I supposed to do?” I asked.
“Go down to the river and beat them on a rock!” you said as you moved to look out the living room window.
“You’re kidding?” I said.
“No, I’m not kidding.” you said.
I thought about the fact that you hadn’t been kidding about this sort of thing since I got there. I stood studying you and then noticed that you refused to look at me. I walked towards you, leaning to get a look at your eyes as I told you I didn’t believe you. You turned with a smirk on your face.
“All right, I am kidding” you said, “but tomorrow, you are getting a job, let’s have tea before we go.”
We drank our tea as you told me that when a person is really looking for a job, the leave the house by 9am and don’t come back until 5pm, everyday until they have a job.
True to your word, the next day you took me to Rutland and I did get a job that day. I felt so accomplished, informing you of my new schedule. That is when you dropped the next ball. You weren’t going to drive me to work everyday. You gave me some phone numbers of people that lived in town and worked in Rutland everyday. I was to call these people I had never met and ask if I could catch a ride in return for sharing the cost of gas. My chin dropped.
I wonder, did you already ask those people you told me to call? I bet you did. It was so easy and I know you wouldn’t have set me up for failure.
The day I got my first pay check, you brought me to the store and I got deodorant, toothpaste and shampoo. It felt so good to hold these things in my hands knowing I had gotten them myself. You gave that gift to me. You taught me to be independent of you, there is no greater gift than that.
I remember you brought me to the book store and told me to get that book to study for my GED. Then you wanted me to sit at the table every night and study. I did what you asked and then you brought me to Montpelier to take the test. I remember when I got my scores the man told me that he looked at my scores and thought it would be a waste if I didn’t further my education. I felt a pride in my own abilities and I looked at you.
I guess all of that pretty much makes up for the time you brought David and I to Paragon Park and let him go on the roller coaster, but told me I was to young. I was so angry with you about that. He was only a year older than me.
I guess the lessons you taught me also make up for that lemon cake I never got to try because you ate the entire thing!
Did I mention I don’t like playing cards so much anymore, because I don’t want to play without you? Remember the time you threw the deck in the wood stove because I was so aggravated that I could never win? You said you would never play with me again, only days later you sulked because you said if I really wanted to play with you I would have gotten another deck of cards. Really? So then you tried to hide the smirk as you pulled out a brand new deck, claiming that you were going to give me a chance to redeem myself.
Did you ever consider that if you didn’t win every time and then proclaim yourself the champion and gloat I wouldn’t have gotten so mad? Of course you did. You also knew that saying you let me win so that I would keep playing on those rare occasion when I seemingly got lucky got on my last nerve as well.
Just so you can prepare yourself, I will let you know now, when I cross over to the other side, I am bringing a new deck with me, a box of tea bags and a cake mix. Only this time, you will not be left alone with the cake!
Your niece, Trae.
P.S. I miss you