My uncle was always broke. After my father died, he’d take me into town and say, “I forgot my money-clip, how much you got?”
I’d reach in my pocket and give him what pittance I had. He’d smile. “Thank God, I was afraid we wouldn’t have gas to get home.”
He sunk his little bit of savings into a rusted Dodge RV that was hardly bolted together. Whenever the thing came bounding down our road, it sounded like a shopping cart.
The door was loose, one window was covered with cardboard. Inside: a couch he’d found on the side of the road which used to smell like cat urine.
He parked in our cattle pasture. The cows took to him quicker than they ever took to me. They wandered around his vehicle and looked through his windows.
Often, I’d find him in a lawn chair outside, with two Aberdeens underneath his awning. He’d named the red one, Barbara. Whenever he’d see me coming to visit, he’d slap her hindparts, saying, “Get outta here old girl, make room for my nephew.”
I’d sit with him half the day sometimes. He was lonely, I was fatherless. Some friendships are meant to be.
He told stories—he has millions. I could pass entire afternoons listening to one after another. Whenever he’d tell a blatant false one, he’d raise his hand and say, “Hundred and twenty percent true. Ain’t that right, Barbara?”
Barbara didn’t like being brought into disputes.
My uncle was, by all means, a decided failure. Not the kind of example many people aspire to become. He worked in a lowly fertilizer plant, smelled bad, and couldn’t afford supper. And, he was the only living member of my family lazy enough to pick guitar, or memorize dirty jokes.
To me, he was a genius.
You should’ve heard his knockout storytelling. Sometimes, he’d talk until one in the morning—until I’d laugh so hard I peed. Or: he’d play guitar for his nephew, who didn’t want to go to bed because he missed his father.
And it was he who once told me, “You don’t wanna be like me. Sure, you can learn a few of my stories, or maybe play music like me. But make better of your life than I did. You don’t wanna be a damn loser.”
Anyway, as it happens I don’t know much about anything. And I know less about successful adulthood. But, if storytelling, music, and giving love to a child who hurts inside makes someone a loser.
The world could use a lot more of them.
Happy birthday, Uncle.