My Uncle Jim passed away this weekend. He’s had a hard time the last few years, with some complicated things I won’t get into, so it’s one of those times where we all console ourselves, try to ease the bite of the hurt, by saying he’s in a better place now, he’s finally at peace, he’s riding motorcycles with his older brother and James Dean on a road trip across Heaven, things like that.
I always loved to hear my mother tell the story of his birth–at home on Christmas Day, 1940, placed under the tree for my mother and her other brothers to discover when they padded out to see what Santa brought them. Ironically, he grew up to become a volunteer Santa for much of his adult life, at first using the requisite fake white beard and glasses, then the last 10 years or so, sporting his own soft, snowy beard and specs. He was one of those men you see walking down the street and you do a double-take, “Was that Santa?” Yeah, if Santa has tattoos and is a total smart-ass! He would say “Sanny Claus” in this kind of back country-way he had of talking (that I catch my mother at as well, sometimes, much to my delight; for instance dog is “dawg” and concrete, like cement, is “con-CREETE”).
Uncle Jim was a big Scotsman, huge of body and of heart. He was a big-time teaser, with his kids and all of us nieces and nephews, but he seemed just a tad gentler with sensitive little me, able to make me laugh, but not going too far. He inherited a passion for motorcycles from my grandfather, and was always willing to give us rides at family functions, which thrilled me to no end, flying down the back roads on a hot summer day, heart beating wildly yet feeling safe and secure snuggled next to my uncle.
He was not an educated man, but enterprising–he owned several businesses over the years, from a painting company to building and selling gorgeous kayaks. With his large rough hands he could turn a plain piece of wood into something beautiful and delicate. Lately he’d been making wooden toys for his grandchildren (“grand-babies”), and these incredibly sensuous canes for friends–which you would instantly become just upon meeting him. He stayed with us a couple times in the last two years and saw that I have a passion for hearts, and as a thank-you when he got home to Montana he went into his workshop and carved a redwood heart necklace for me, and seeing Joe’s collection of flutes, sent him a Native American cedar flute. Not a rich man monetarily, but a very generous one.
The last update I had on his health was a few weeks ago when my mother said he had been involved in some kind of wheelchair incident at his nursing home where he had broken some ribs. Without hearing any other details I would assume he was simply being himself and perhaps racing someone in his chair, or flirting and teasing some nurse with a trick. So, yes, I like to think that he is in a better place, now, where he’s racing around looking like Sanny Claus, tattoos and all, making people laugh and grinning a huge dimpled grin down at us all.