There are endless Uncle Bobby stories. We all have them, and we’ve all shared them. He made an impact on all of our lives that we will never forget. He just had that kind of personality.
Some stories are uniquely our own – parts of my uncle that he gave just to us individually. I got access to parts of him my younger cousins didn’t, and those are the pieces I will treasure.
We were only 10 years apart in age, and I think as I grew older, Uncle Bobby felt obligated to pass along to me the things he learned not that much longer before me. I think I was about eight when he gave me a copy of The Hobbit. I was still reading Judy Blume books, like the other third graders, and it felt way beyond me, but I read it, cover to cover, hoping to impress him. But he wasn’t out to be impressed. He was out to educate – to make sure I had exposure to something to which my own dad might not have exposed me. He had such an appreciation for the book, and I think he wanted to make sure I did, too.
I couldn’t understand when he gave me the album Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens. I was listening to “The NIght Chicago Died” and “Seasons in the Sun” – I just didn’t “get” Cat Stevens. But I tried. I listened to the album a few times. I put it away a few times. I bought myself Cat Stevens album Teaser and the Firecat. And who knew? Maybe Uncle Bobby knew. But years later, while other moms were singing “You are My Sunshine” to their babies, I was singing “Wild World” and “Moonshadow” – songs that spoke to my heart as a mom way deeper than anything Paper Lace ever sang. And there were days that I would silently thank my Uncle in my head for bringing real music to me in the age of disco. I didn’t get a chance to apologize to him for liking some of the Bee Gees music. I don’t think I admitted it, but he knew. Just as I was in the throes of “Stayin’ Alive” back in the day, he threw some Phoebe Snow albums my way to swing the pendulum back into a normal rhythm.
Here’s a story I never thought I’d share. I liked a boy I met during a summer with my aunt in North Carolina. My parents were not thrilled when I decided this boy should come and visit me. I believe my mom said something about not knowing whether or not he was a serial killer. I managed to grab some private time with my Uncle Bobby and quietly told him what was going on. He offered to let this potentially serial killer boy stay at his house, without telling my parents. He opened his home for a week to this guy, never having met him. I loved him then for doing it, but I love him even more now for keeping my secret and letting me know not only that I could trust him, but that he trusted me.
I last saw my Uncle Bobby when I went out to St. Louis for Eilis’ robotics team competition. I knew he had been sick on and off, and I knew he had heart problems. He was super excited to talk on the phone about the tournament, and he wanted to know all about what he was watching online from the competition. He asked about coming to watch, but I was afraid. The walk from the garage to the actual tournament area was substantial, and I didn’t want anything to happen to him. I didn’t tell him not to come, but I described the areas and how far the walk was, and he decided not to come over and watch it online instead. I was so relieved. My head swirled with having to tell my little cousins that I was responsible for something awful happening to their dad.
Instead of getting together during the chaos of the tournament, and worrying that something would happen to him climbing the steps and trudging across to the playing field, we got to enjoy a really great meal out and a family get together at my cousin John’s house. I loved that he asked about my kids, talked to Granuaile to learn more about her, and spent time sharing a story or two with her. I loved that despite all he’d been through, he still held the childlike charm that endeared him to so many hearts in his lifetime. I loved that after all these years, I felt like he was still teaching me what was important about life – how to recognize and appreciate the things that sometimes get clouded when your eyes are blinded by disco balls.
My Uncle Bobby raised three really awesome kids. He had a wife for whom he took the words “to love and to cherish” very seriously. He rocked the grandfather gig. He made friends of strangers and family of friends. There is nothing harder than saying goodbye to someone who has filled such a huge place in your heart. But as long as we have the stories – and we share them with each other – we will never truly lose him.
“Oh very young what will you leave us this time
There’ll never be a better chance to change your mind
And if you want this world to see a better day
Will you carry the words of love with you
Will you ride the great white bird into heaven
And though you want to last forever
You know you never will
(you know you never will)
And the goodbye makes the journey harder still.”