i've avoided writing in this series about people that are no longer alive because the truth is i know a LOT of dead people and i was trying to focus on how i love people that haven't shuffled off this mortal coil. but the truth is, some of my ability to love, and sense of loving people now is so very very much shaped by loved ones no longer living. so, i've given in and i am going to revel in why i love my dear departed uncle glen.
the summer before sixth grade my parents decided to give my uncle glen an offer. he'd shown signs he wanted to stop drinking and my parents thought perhaps they could provide motivation that would make the difference. they told him that if he went to detox and stayed successfully sober he could live with us during the year and fish on my dad's boat in the summers. he accepted. as a result, beginning in sixth grade, and on into my junior high years my uncle glen lived with us in anchorage.
the thing is, i'm the youngest of three girls by five years. what that meant for me was that i spent a lot of time on my own. even with others around, everyone else was much older and enthralled with their own appropriate projects. having glen move in with us meant there was suddenly another person around that it turned out i got to spend time with. he was good with me and, honestly, i adored him. i come from a rather stoic family. i often joke it's only been in the last few years any of them have learned to compliment and only because i've been shoving compliments down their throats for a while now (i intentionally decided to learn this rather complicated, vulnerable project of complimenting others in my early 20's. i really didn't grow up with them). glen though turned out to be someone that for whatever reason was incredibly proud of me and would let me know by bragging about me to his friends in front of me, and then teasing me the rest of the time. that experience of hearing a family member say nice things about me was something strikingly new for me at the time. more importantly, he let me know by just taking the time to spend time with me that he loved me. it's hard to explain what a huge difference that made in my life. i've never doubted my family loves me, but, the truth is, everyone was pretty busy when i was growing up, so having someone around with the ability to take time was unique. as a result he got to teach me quirky things too. he taught me how to play poker with monopoly money. there was a stretch of time where i really knew all these different forms of poker. i've since forgotten. we used to bet nickles on pro-basketball games--he was a huge celtics and larry bird fan. and he'd come to my cross country running races and cheer me on. one of my favorite photos is a snapshot of me just after my 7th grade regional race, red faced and breathing heavy, with my mom beaming on one side and her brother glen glowing on the other. i'd just come in 2nd, passing a slew of girls that had out-paced me in every other race that season. glen told that story several times the next several years.
the sad truth is glen returned to drinking before i got to high school. honestly, i think he was just bored off his ass living at my parents' house. it was an enormously generous gift they'd given him, but it wasn't enough glen's own. as a result i saw him less over the years. but even so, later when i was in high school, he had to have leg surgery and i visited him in the hospital. a friend happened to visit during the same time i was there and glen immediately started in on his bragging about me, his niece, right after he'd just been teasing me when we were on our own. glen's way of teasing me with utterly wry, slow paced style shaped my entire sense of humor. he also made clear that while things could honestly be hard there was no use whining about it. one of my favorite expressions of glen's was a simple response to any form of complaining. he'd look at me sideways, take off his glasses, and simply pull down the lower lid of one eye. then he'd go back to reading the newspaper. his point? -- i was complaining and his eyes were dry. he only had to pull this move with me once before i got the point and didn't whine to him anymore. he got me enthused about the game scrabble (the one board game i still love), and he introduced me to the idea first that maybe someone could be overtly proud of me just because i was me.