My Uncle Rex passed away this last week. He was the youngest of my grandparents ten children. The baby of a large and boisterous family. He was eighty years old and lived a full and joyful life.
One of my earliest memories of him starts with my five foot tall grandmother standing in the living room of her house beating on the ceiling with the broom handle and shouting for Rex to wake up. Then she'd send us upstairs to get him out of bed. But don't get too close, he comes up swinging. So we'd stand at the end of the bed and holler until one of worked up the courage to grab the blanket and yank it off. He’d sit up and growl until we all ran away then go back to sleep.
Rex was the quietest of the brothers. I expect because he was twenty years younger than the oldest and most of the uncles were out on their own by the time he came along. He was only ten when they were all off to fight in World War II. He joined the Army when he was old enough and was stationed in post war Germany. Always running to catch up to his big brothers.
He had a very warped sense of humor. He’d send my sister and I up to Floyd’s ( a restaurant that sits on the edge of Route 11 and still stands today ) to buy him a pouch of Red Man Chewing Tobacco and a pack of Parodi Cigars. With a big smile, Floyd would always ask if these were for us or Uncle Rex and we’d giggle because we all knew exactly who they were for. I asked Uncle Rex once what the Red Man tasted like. I loved the smell of tobacco and still do. He told me it tasted like bubble gum and gave me pinch then laughed as I stood there spitting the vile tasting stuff out of my mouth.
My uncles were the family storytellers and I loved to sit in a dark corner of the front porch where I could hide in the shadows and listen to them spin their yarns. Each trying to out brag the other. Now they’re all gone and I like to imagine them sitting on God’s porch and spinning their tales for the angels, though I expect they’ve probably cleaned up their language a bit in that heavenly presence.
If I were to write a story about a family of bothers my Uncle Rex would be the dark one, the one who would be there to settle the score, and make things right. There was a family rumor that the Vice Principal of our school carried a golf club when he took his evening walks because my uncle had threatened him after an unpleasant encounter during my uncle’s senior year. I thought it was one of the family’s tall tales until I actually saw the man many years later walking along the side of the road carrying his nine iron. My uncle’s legacy - fight for what you believe in.
Good bye, my dearest uncle, you’ll be missed but never forgotten.