Wednesday, February 2, 2005


Today is more than a reason to rent a "Bill Murray" video. It's also the birthday of an uncle. I'm ashamed to say I don't know all of my aunts' and uncles' birthdays. Perhaps my sisters' know all of the relatives' birthdays. Perhaps not. But, as bad as it sounds, I don't. Actually, I have two blood-uncles -- that is, my father has one brother and my mother has one brother -- and I know both of their birthdays. But, of my two blood-aunts -- both my father's sisters -- I really don't know their birthdays. But I should.

I don't know if its the fact that I'm a guy that I know my uncles' birthdays and not my aunts' birthdays. Whatever the reason, there's no excuse for it.

I'm an uncle, but I have no idea if any of my nieces or nephews know my birthday. And, no, it's not any time soon. But, I wonder. I don't wonder about it all the time, just when I sit down and start typing about birthdays and uncles. Like now.

The uncle whose birthday it is wasn't around much when we were growing up. He was in the Air Force and was wherever he was needed to keep the Russians away. Like Nebraska. You didn't want Russians in Nebraska in the 1960s or '70s, that's for sure.

When I was younger, though, I remember other uncles. A grandmother -- my father's mother -- had a brother who lived in town. We lived out of town, with a grandmother and grandfather living across the road. It was -- and still is, by the way -- a U.S. Highway. Like I said, it was out of town.

This great-uncle would plow the fields nearby. I don't know if it was his land or my grandmother's or what. But, particularly after my grandfather -- father's father -- died in the late 1960s, this great-uncle would do more planting and plowing and such there.

One other thing about this uncle: he was funny. That's not to say others didn't have a sense of humor, but this one really did. Always playing with the kids and joking and such. Like I said, he was funny. Sometime, like when I'm typing about uncles, I wonder if he was always that way, or just around other people. You see, I saw him one time when he wasn't very funny.

The telephone rang one day. I don't remember if it was a weekend or summer or early afternoon, but I wasn't at school. My father answered the phone and it was one of these: "Hello? Yes, ma'am. Yes ma'am. (pause) Yes, ma'am. We'll take care of it."

My father told me to get in the car. I was big enough to see over the door and out the window, but not much larger than that. Plus, this was the 1960s. Kids could ride in the front seat then, anyway. So, I got in the front passenger seat and we went to town.

On the block across from City Hall, and across from the bank where I was born (another story for another day; not like it sounds, so maybe not another story), behind the store where my grandmother worked, we went. My father got out of the car and disappeared for a few minutes.

Suddenly, I was aware that he was back. And he wasn't alone. This funny great-uncle was there. Only he wasn't funny. He was falling down drunk. I had never seen falling-down drunk. The only drunk I had ever seen was the guy at the bar in "Bewitched" that later played Mr. Whipple squeezing Charmin. But here was one up close and personal. And it was the funny great-uncle.

Once everyone was positioned in the car, my father drove to the great-uncle's house and helped him inside. He came back, got into the car, and we rode back to the house. The only word my father spoke to me, or maybe to himself, was said just after we pulled out of the driveway of the great-uncle: "Pitiful."

Not another word was said on the way back to the house. And my father never said another word about it to anyone, as far as I know.

I understand that this great-uncle was drunk uptown a few times after that. Maybe a lot of time. So, having himself seen my a little nephew didn't make much of an impression on him. But it made an impression on me.

In the nearly 40 years since this happened, I have not had the first drink of any kind of alcoholic beverage. Ever.


  1. The Big Sister (who's 5'4")February 2, 2005 at 1:47 AM

    This same great-uncle's drunkenness made an impact on me also. While I can't say I have never tasted alcohol, I CAN say have never been drunk; in fact I have never had more than a just taste of any type of tastes AWFUL! I have never ever understood why that wonderfully funny great-uncle drank and turned unfunny. I have never ever liked alcohol and what it does to folks, because of an encounter with that great-uncle...a different encounter than basil's.
    I don't know the aunts' birthdays either. Just the uncles...
    Oh, and Happy Birthday, Uncle!
    And Happy Groundhog Day to the rest of you!

  2. The Mean Sister (who is 5'6")February 2, 2005 at 3:11 AM

    Obviously I was too young to remember the funny uncle being drunk...I still have never had any thing to drink, but one reason is because I still live out of town in town and Daddy is stil across the street. Those switches would still hurt!! That's not the only reason, but it is a great motivator, but that's another story too. I know the birthdays both uncles and the aunt who is the twin of the big sister (who is 5'4"). Happy birthday from me too, Uncle.

  3. big sis (who's 5'4"): happy Groundhog Day to you too!

    basil: as bad as you are with cold medication, it's a good thing that you don't drink. i'd really hate to see you on a good Jack Daniel's wouldn't be a pretty sight! :)

  4. and you can use that as a testimonial quote if you like!


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