Recently I was working on a set of autobiography questions, one of them being "What is your earliest memory?" Well, the first thing I remember was being in a black baby buggy at my grandparents' home. My mother and I lived with them while my father was in the Army, stationed in Germany. It was the first home I had after being born, and I was surrounded by such wonderful, loving people, including an aunt and several uncles who were all still in school. I remember laying in that buggy and hearing all their voices but being unable to see anything but the sides of the buggy. Then, suddenly, my Uncle Don's head poked into the buggy, and I felt absolute glee!
My uncles and aunt were all nurturing and attentive, but there was something different about Uncle Don. Perhaps it was because he was the youngest of my grandparents' children, and just 11 years old when I was born. He was not really a child, but not really an adult either. In some respects, we grew up together. He was doing all the fun things while the rest of them were pursuing more adult activities like dating and dancing, and Don frequently included me in whatever he had going on. We went on go-cart rides and bike rides. He took me sledding in the yard, pushing me around on a baby sled. He let me help feed his rabbit, Sam. He had fun things like baseball cards and Mad Magazine, which we weren't supposed to get into, but...
So many other memories were never captured on film. I was the only kindergartener who got to ride home every day on a motorcycle! I was the pesky kid who asked his girlfriends if they were going to be our "aunt." After he went off to Vietnam, there was a huge gaping hole in our time spent at Grandma and Grandpa's, but I recall him eventually coming home on leave and all of us fighting over who got to wake him up in the morning, while Grandma got his breakfast cooking. Just the fact that he didn't strangle us speaks greatly to his patience!
Yes, every kid needs an Uncle Don. My own grandchildren have an Uncle Adam, which is awfully close, and they adore him. But growing up with Uncle Don brought something special to my childhood that I am grateful to have had. Thank you, Uncle Don!