Tuesday, Aug 30, 2016
* From my syndicated newspaper column in October of 1998…
My Uncle Mike died last night, his daughter and his wife were both at his side.
He was such a great guy. Very funny, very gentle, very sweet.
* He was one of those people who had a joke for every occasion. I asked him once if he had volunteered for the Army. “Volunteered? I still have splinters under my fingernails from when they dragged me off!”
When he was a kid, his mom gave him a diary. He read it to me once, speaking in the voice of a child. It went something like, “Today, I played cowboy.” Turn the page. “Today, I played cowboy.” Turn the page. “Today, I played cowboy.” Turn the page, “Today, I played fireman.”
You had to be there.
* Mike learned to fly an airplane when I was young and I flew with him several times and even went through the study guides with him while he worked to get a commercial license. He taught me about clouds, aerodynamics, you name it. It was so easy to learn things from him because he was such a patient, kind man. We were sitting at his kitchen bar table studying together one night and he started telling jokes and I literally fell off my chair laughing. I don’t remember a single one of those jokes, but I’ll never forget that long fall off that high bar stool. No blood, no foul. I got up laughing.
He bought a motorcycle back in the day and would take me for rides. We were pulled over by the cops near my grandma’s house in Ashkum once because I wasn’t wearing sunglasses. He bought me a pair and later that day a bug or something hit my glasses and they cracked. Thank goodness for the cop. I don’t think I ever did tell my mom that story.
* Mike wasn’t somebody who worried too much about his career. He tried numerous occupations, never settling on one. He never really had much money and he never seemed to care all that much. He had a house, a great wife and lived in the town where he was born and raised, always surrounded by good friends and a strong family. He did, indeed, live in bliss.
Remington, Indiana was kind of a paradise to me when I was a kid. I lived on a farm in Iroquois County at the time, so our closest neighbor kids were over a mile away. Mike’s nieces and nephews lived near his house and they and their pals were all around my age, so we became fast friends. I don’t remember any of them ever once causing any trouble. They were such good kids, but so much fun to hang out with, always laughing and smiling. And then I’d go back to Mike and Jean’s house and listen to show tunes. My Aunt Jean, my mom’s sister, was a big fan of show tunes. I think I memorized the entire “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” album at one point. It was a home away from home. An oasis of calm and constant mirth.
* I was nine when my cousin Tracy was born. She was the first girl on my mom’s side of the family, so she was always special. Tracy got her sense of humor and much of her sweetness from her dad and she shared a story yesterday about her childhood…
* My mom called from Mike’s hospital room a couple of days ago and put me on speaker so I could talk to him. She warned me that he probably wouldn’t respond. But he perked up when he heard my voice and we managed a conversation. I told him I loved him. It was the last thing I said to him before he passed.
Today, Mom sent me a photo of a framed copy of my 1998 column that was hanging on Uncle Mike’s bedroom wall. That’s when I started writing this post. And that’s when I also decided that I’m going to take the rest of the day off.
* Here’s a photo taken by my brother Devin of Uncle Mike and Aunt Jean…