I think I was nine when I realized that my uncle’s name wasn’t actually Brother. My mother and her sister both called him Brother. I don’t really remember my grandmother calling him anything but Brother. My great-grandmother: Brother. My cousins either called him Daddy or Uncle Brother. Occasionally, someone said Charles Edward, but I have a cousin named Charlie, so I naturally thought that they meant him. So, I guess my cousin, David, is actually to blame for the fact that we all called him Uncle Brother because David was the oldest and really should have investigated further before leading the rest of us down the primrose path. After all he was ten to my zero, so . . . he should have known better.
All of this is to say that my Uncle Brother, man of many talents, clever in ways that most men in my family are not, passed from this earth yesterday in his sleep. He was an unusual guy, my uncle. First of all, he was never bothered by the fact that his nieces and nephews called him Uncle Brother. He was pretty even-tempered — probably a good thing because my aunt, his sister, was a firecracker. But he wasn’t a peace maker. He had a wicked sense of humor that bordered on the inappropriate at times. He LOVED to rile up his sisters. That trait I can see made its way to Ben. He had a deep love of family, but often very weird priorities.
I have two very strong memories of him. The first, was a trip to Wichita to see our Aunt Sissy and Uncle Frankie. The second, his remote-controlled airplanes. Please remember, folks, these are my memories and I don’t know if they are accurate or if they’ve become blurred through the annals of time.
My sister was still in diapers, so I couldn’t have been more than seven when he got a wild hair to go see Aunt Sissy in Wichita. This makes more sense when you understand that we were in McLoud, OK at the time for our somewhat annual visit (some years more annual than others). Somehow he talked my mother into this and we all loaded up in his conversion van (you remember those things, his was blue, big, lots of space very little actual seating — seatbelts? car seats? — who needed car seats it was the late 70s — we’re probably lucky we didn’t ride on the roof rack [I’m certain had someone asked he would have let us]. The coolest thing, to me, about that van was the fact that it had a fridge in it. It was about the size of a dorm fridge, and it was stocked with drinks (non-alcoholic, of course). And he let us have as many drinks as we wanted. Now, you may not realize this, but Wichita is NOT a short drive from McLoud. It was a day trip, but seriously the longest day trip I have every taken (excluding a certain trip to DC where we did the whole drive back to Florida in one day, but that was another crazy car guy and another time entirely and seatbelts were involved). The other thing you may not realize is that rest stops were not common in that area at the time (and may still not be, for all I know). Anyway, I drank and drank and drank — you’d think I had never had soda before in my life — actually, I probably hadn’t. At some point, my mother said, “Brother, if you let her keep drinking like that there will be a problem before we get to Aunt Sissy’s.” I remember him laughing at my mom and saying something to the effect of “Tiny, she’ll be fine or she’ll get wet.” I was very almost not fine, as I recall. And I was the first kid out of the van, did not even stop to give Aunt Sissy her kiss and Uncle Frankie, knowing Uncle Brother as he did, just pointed me to the bathroom. I could hear Uncle Brother laughing the ENTIRE time. I realize now he thought it was all a big joke and that my mother would be the one to deal with the consequences of that joke, even better. My mom was the baby to his oldest, so I’m sure there was some — let’s call it rivalry — involved there.
The other thing I remember clearly about our childhood are the remote-controlled airplanes. When I was very little, I thought he had to be superman because he could make those things fly with just a little controller box and it was amazing to me. I know I’d never seen anything like it before. He always had a few around. When we cleaned out the “old house” on my grandmother’s property when I was in my twenties I figured out how that would be — there were easily fifteen airplanes in there in various states of disrepair (no motors in them, though). He and the boys would tinker with planes on the picnic table for the first couple of days of the visit and then he’d say it was time to fly. Once again, a group of us (sometimes including the cousin closest in age to me and myself) would load ourselves into the van and drive to find a spot to fly. Key things for flying a remote control airplane: flat ground to take off from and land on, very few trees, and not a lot of vegetation — this actually describes A LOT of Oklahoma in the summer. We would find his space and we’d all get out and watch the preparation of the planes. In my memory his oldest son helped with this, but I’m not sure if the other son helped or not. I don’t really remember. I do remember that Gina and I would sit and watch. And then they would put the planes on the ground, taxi them down the makeshift runway and off they flew. I thought it was magic. Part of me still does. I don’t remember ever getting to fly one of them. I was probably too young, but it sure felt like girls can watch, but girls can’t do.
My uncle was a good man. He loved his family. He was an important part of our family and he is gone. He will be sorely missed and I mourn for his family, his friends, and those who never had the opportunity to meet him. What a loss you have had. Love you Uncle Brother! Catch you on the flip side