Uncle John

Do you have relatives or friends who filled in for other relatives in your life? I never knew my Grandfathers, but my Uncle John helped fill the bill. The excerpt below is from my upcoming memoir, Growing Up in the 80s.

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Soon, we made the left turn onto Ballon Street, and I counted houses. Great Grandma’s house was the third on the left. As usual, Uncle John waited for someone with whom to hold court on the porch. Dad waved. “There he is!” he yelled to all of us and none of us. Great Grandma was a Hungarian immigrant, and her aged adult children were proud first-generation Americans. Great Grandma was my father’s Grandmother. However, even though Uncle John was Dad’s uncle and actually our Great Uncle John, he was always referred to as Uncle John. He was easygoing and did what was needed, so it suited him.  Great Grandma’s husband, or Pap Pap, had been dead many years.

Amy swung the gate into the yard and there we were: at the bottom of the front, steep, faded-to-grey, wooden steps of the front porch. It looked like a mountain to climb! There were nine steps in all. I counted the lower five which sounded like “clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp!” as I ran up them. The final four steps? More like “thump, thump, thump, thump!” Amy and I thumped hard on the last one, thinking of gymnasts we watched on T.V. who stuck the landings of their routines. We even raised our arms! Uncle John turned where he sat in his grey metal glider-chair from another era with the faded cushions, like a Cheshire cat with freckled cheeks in lieu of whiskers, looked at us, and smiled widely.

“Hi Uncle John!” Amy and I beamed.

“Hey, hey there!” he croaked warmly, as his white and black teeth showed in a lovely mischievous grin. Uncle John was the closest thing we had to a grandfather since we’d never met Pap-Pap. He could’ve been Santa Claus. While he did not wear the mythical costume of course, he did exude joy as he simply sat in his glider. Uncle John’s brown eyes twinkled and his buttery-brown face lit up when he saw us. He was clean-shaven, had a prominent forehead like Dad’s and black framed glasses, but with the trim only on the top half.  He sported the Johnny Cash all black from head-to- toe as well: button-down shirt, Dickies pants with a belt, and shoes. The porch creaked as always when we went over to him. His right shoulder rose as his hand dug into the front pants pocket then extracted a bunch of quarters. He thumbed them out in his fleshy palm with his short, stocky fingers, one at a time: “There you go,” he declared.

“Thanks!” Amy and I exclaimed as she proceeded to the screen door, pulled it open with a creak, and it banged shut.

Ritual complete.

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