My great-uncle Frank used to keep a bathtub full of shiners in his backyard. It always fascinated me and my brothers when we were little. Whenever we stopped by the house to visit, invariably Uncle Frank would take us out to the garden for fresh produce – cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce – and invariably, we’d run to the brook that fed the bathtub and watch the small silvery fish darting back and forth between the tub’s porcelian walls.

That wasn’t the only draw to going to visit Uncle Frank, however. The cellar was his domain of the house, where he’d can fresh vegetables from his garden, brew home-made root-beer and butcher moose or deer he’d bring back from hunting. And always, the fridge would be stocked with old glass coca-cola bottles full of home-brewed root beer for us kids. We sit around the table and drink root beer out of shot glasses (I didn’t realize this until later – I always thought he had special small glasses for us kids!) and munch on cheesy crackers and dried apples.

Sometimes he’d stop by our house with barely a moment’s notice and take me and my brothers out for the morning, just to give mom a break. We’d go for drives out in the country and look for animals on the side of the road. Blueberry picking. Mushrooming. Walking out by the Quabbin. Getting to pet a real life orphaned fawn. And often, we’d go fishing. I caught my first (and last, so far) salmon out on his boat. Sometimes we’d get ice cream on the way home…

My childhood is full of Uncle Frankness. And I love the memories, love the fact that the best great-uncle on earth made himself a part of me and my siblings’ lives. I would never change a bit of it, even if I never did like fishing that much, even if I didn’t even like eating fish – I just loved spending time with him.

My great-uncle Frank died yesterday. He’d been sick for awhile and was so tired; it wasn’t a shock, but it still hurts and I’m trying to rearrange my mind around it all, trying to get past the numbness. I’ll never see him again. I’ll never drink a glass of his home-made root beer again. Or reminisce about fishing with him again. He’ll never show up at our house out of the blue with fresh garden veggies or dried apples again. I’ll never sit at the oil-cloth-covered table in his basement with him again. I’ll never be able to give him a good-bye peck on the cheek again.

It’s the never again part that hurts so much. Never is such a long, long time.

I love you, Uncle Frank. Miss you so much. I’ll never forget you. My future kids will hear stories about you one day. Stories about fish and bathtubs and root-beer brewed in your basement. Thanks for being the best great-uncle a girl could ever have.

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