I was the second of three children, the much dreaded “middle child” and by the time I was ushered into this cruel world the newness of motherhood had worn off on my mom. That is why my early history is rather vague as recorded in my baby book. Or, should I say, not recorded? It is of great personal torment to me that I don’t know what the very first word I spoke was, who gave me my first dollar, or the exact date I began to lose my hair.
In my older brother’s baby book every act of his young life was fully documented, such as the date he was potty trained and the celebration that followed. Whereas the only thing written in my baby book, other than my name, was under the heading, “People Who Inspired Me.” Only one person is listed, my Uncle Mac. No, Mac was not really my uncle in a genetic sort of way; he was more of an honorary uncle.
Every year when the shopping center Santa Clauses begin to appear I am reminded of Uncle Mac. He was my Santa Claus. In fact, he shared a striking resemblance to the real deal with his white mustache and a belly that shook like a bowl full of jelly when he finished a really funny story. Uncle Mac was quite a storyteller and I’ve often wondered if I became a spinner of yarns myself because of his early influence.
Mac also wore high top leather boots much like the kind that Santa wears. Only Uncle Mac’s were specially built that way because as a young railroad man in Pennsylvania a bridge trestle collapsed and buried Uncle Mac and many other men. Several men died, but Uncle Mac lived. Boy did he live! In today’s society Uncle Mac would have been put on permanent disability and forgotten. But not my Uncle Mac. He held down a full time job and assumed my upbringing as one of his duties in life.
The problem was all of the lessons that Mac tried to teach me backfired. Take gopher funerals, for example. As next door neighbors we shared everything, including a terrible gopher problem. The gophers ravaged both our yards and the solution was to set gopher traps. Whenever we caught a gopher Uncle Mac would insist on presiding over its funeral. We’d put Mr. Gopher in a shoe box, lay it back in his own hole and then Uncle Mac would say a few words to comfort us. “Ashes to ashes dust to dust, here lies Mr. Gopher, a good friend and a prolific father.” Then I would always destroy the solemnity of the moment by asking Uncle Mac, “If he was such a good guy why did we trap and kill him?” Even at the age of five I was a cynic. It’s like burying a politician and saying, “here lies a politician and an honest man.” They can’t both be in the same hole. Same with the gopher. We didn’t call him a “friend” when he was digging up our lawns.
There was also the time that Uncle Mac tried to instill in me the meaning of the holiday season, that it is better to give than to receive. One Christmas I remember we baked up a special batch of our gopher cookies. No, they weren’t made out of gopher parts, we just called them that because we always made them for the wake after the gopher funerals. One year we loaded up bags of those cookies in my Red Flyer wagon and went door to door trying to give them away to our neighbors. But when I told them they were “gopher cookies” they would politely refuse the kind gesture. No one wanted our gifts and Uncle Mac’s lesson that it is good to give was not working out very well. When we got back to Uncle Mac’s house we left the Red Flyer on the front porch and went inside for a glass of milk and a plate of gopher cookies. They really were quite good.
I have very fond memories of Uncle Mac and every year at Christmas time I reward myself with a few of them. This time of year I try to recall as many of those special memories about special people that I can, and I would urge you to do the same.
Those memories will be the best present you’ll ever give yourself. ❖