Saturday, January 17, 2009

My Uncle Jerry

As a child, the biggest hero in my life was my Uncle Jerry. He is my father's youngest brother, only a few years older than me. We played together as children until he became a teenager and outgrew playing. That did not diminish my hero worship of him.

Jerry was always doing something amazing. For starters, he was not afraid of snakes. My father was afraid of snakes and I inherited that fear. One year Jerry built a laboratory in the haymow of Grandpa's huge barn. He had jars of snakes and lizards and other creepy things preserved and sitting in rows. While I was genuinely repulsed by the jars of icky things, it merely enhanced Jerry's bravery in my eyes. He was an expert snake hunter, catching the largest of snakes. I stood back, fascinated and horrified whenever he handled a living snake. He was braver than Superman and that is a fact.

He was handsome, athletic and looked out for me sometimes. Once, when I was very young, I was bundled up and watching Jerry and his friends digging around some large rocks on the hill above the house. It was cold and gray. I soon grew tired and needed to sit down. My uncle took off his own glove for me to sit on. Even at my tender age I was impressed with such chivalry!

In front of the television after school spontaneous wrestling matches would break out or bucking bronc riding. My little brother and I loved to wrestle and play, and could never get enough of that rough housing with Jerry.

My uncle was an athlete who won State in high school wrestling. In those days you truly were the best wrestler in the state in your weight class because there were no classifications based on school size. He won over the best of the best and was indeed the Champ.

At the height of his local fame for being a champion, he came down from the high school one day and found me standing in line in grade school. He had a message to deliver from Grandma. As he walked away (on water) the kids wanted to know how I knew him. I proudly announced that he was my uncle.

"Jerry ****** is YOUR uncle?" one of the kids asked incredulously.

I already suspected it but then I knew. I was a stigma and an unfortunate smear on my uncle's shining fame. I only hoped my shy, pathetic existence down in grade school was so insignificant that the fact he was saddled with me as a relative would be easily overlooked. A guy can not choose his relatives, after all.

He also played baseball. I recall with clarity how carefully he would shape and crease his ball cap before a game. I would watch his graceful fingers working on the ball cap until it was just so. He was the most handsome guy in the world in his ball uniform and his spikes clicking against the sidewalk was the coolest thing ever!

There was always something awe-inspiring happening in my uncle's life. He had a parakeet named Mickey he taught to wolf whistle and speak. I think the little yellow bird knew some tricks as well, adding to my uncle's miraculous status in my young eyes.

Another fantastic thing about my Uncle Jerry was comic books. He owned a ton of them. If he was reading them, then I wanted to read them, too. I inherited the comic books my Uncle Jerry no longer wanted and I diligently read and re-read them. That is how I discovered Jerry was braver than Superman. Well, maybe he was merely as brave as Superman. (Not even Uncle Jerry could fly or stop a speeding bullet.)

Jerry hunted arrowheads and with his usual excellence he pursued that interest with great success. He had an impressive collection of arrowheads, spear heads, Quivera knives - all sizes, shapes and colors. I have found only one arrowhead in my life. It was in Grandpa's cornfield. It was a dark gray war point according to my uncle. Even to my inexperienced eyes it was a fine piece, symmetrical and finely worked but a corner was missing. Jerry told me it was such a fine piece that he would put it in his collection even though it was broken. How could I argue against that logic? If Superman wants your arrowhead then you give it to him.

By far the most fun I had as a child was playing tag on the horses in Grandpa's cornfield with my uncle, our cousin Ronnie, and my little brother. We should have known better but tearing up and down the rows of tall corn on the horses was just too much fun. Those were some carefree days.

My uncle was funny, patient, and tolerated my little brother and me tagging along in his life with good grace. When I look back, he tolerated us with remarkable good will. I do not know many teenagers now who have the time or patience with younger kids.

I still admire my uncle. He made a good life for himself far from the corporate world which makes him a true hero in my eyes - bigger by far than even Superman. He is self employed, raising hogs and cutting timber and any number of other things. I always look for clues and signs of my father in my Uncle Jerry. I see there are some common characteristics for the men in that family. Jerry lost his big brother when I lost my father. Jerry knew my father only a few more years than I knew him. Surely, my father also possessed some of those Superman qualities. Maybe my son inherited a few as well. That is what I hope.

My Uncle Jerry is still funny, still handsome, still my hero.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this story.