Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Family Portraits #6: Uncle Chuck

This series began as an invitation from The High Calling to write a short, descriptive word picture of someone from our childhood who had an influence on us, either for good for not-so-good. I so enjoyed that invitation, that I kept going. Then Thanksgiving was upon us all, and my Wednesday Family Portrait page (I wish for the life of me I could figure out how to 'do' pages on this blog!) has been seriously slighted for several weeks now. No longer! I am back at it, with a list of names still to be written about. Trying to keep it to 5-600 words has been a challenge, but a worthy one. Here is the latest entry in the log:

He was a larger-than-life person to a little girl. Dark hair, swept away from his face, jowls that made you think of Santa Claus - without the beard or the white hair - and a laugh that invited you right on in. He was handsome, he was charming, he was fun and he was crazy in love with his wife and family. I loved to be around him.

And that’s a good thing, because in my earliest growing-up years, we were around him a lot. Chuck was married to my mom’s sister, Eileen (the first in this list of family line drawings). They were young when they married, and he had a little girl who was two years old. Then they had another girl and then a boy - very close in age to me and my next youngest brother. And they lived 3 blocks from us for about eight years. Many days after school, I would stroll over to their place as easily as I would my own.

We had meals together every so often. We went to Daily Vacation Bible School with their kids. Chuck met Jesus as an adult, a dad who loved his kids and wanted a good life for them. And he decided that the best life to be found was that of disciple. For years, our little family was the only one in my mom’s extended family that went to church, committed to following in the Jesus way. Then Chuck and Eileen stepped onto the path. And off again for a few years, when their beloved pastor was mistreated by his congregation. Chuck was a tender man underneath the laughter and the joie-de-vivre. And injustice was very hard for him to grapple with.

Chuck worked in the grocery industry and he worked hard. Long hours, some traveling, worries over the bottom line - these added lines to his face and stress to his life. But whenever our families gathered, all of that faded away. And we laughed together, we sang together (my mother and her sister used to sing a duet of “Whispering Hope” that wildly embarrassed their children!), we played games together. And we took some vacations together, too. I remember getaways to Rick’s Rancho Motel in Santa Maria. And I remember wonderful times at Newport Beach and Balboa where we would rent a house or apartment for the whole tribe of us.

After all of us grew up and began growing families of our own, Eileen and Chuck and my mom and dad took some wonderful trips, just the four of them - to Europe, to the British Isles, to Canada, to the northeast to see the fall colors, to the south to see the Outer Banks. And they had such a great time. Their love for each other, the fun they found together, their shared sense of adventure - these are the things that marked me deep, as a kid and as a grown-up. My father was a quiet man, very reserved and private. But he loved Uncle Chuck’s gregariousness, his social ease and his ready sense of humor. When Chuck became suddenly and seriously ill about 8-10 years ago, and then died within a matter of weeks, my dad suffered greatly. In truth, I think Chuck’s death hastened his own, which came just a few years later.

I miss that laugh. I miss the sweet singing, and the dancing that often went along with it. And most of all, I miss all that love.