Six Visits From Uncle Dave
By Max Burbank
November 16, 2001
My earliest memory of Uncle Dave is at the Shore. I think I was about three. Weíd rented a small house for the month of August and Dad would drive down on the weekends. My older brother Stevie caught a crab and I was trying to dig a hole for it and keep it from getting away at the same time. I looked up and there was Uncle Dave towering over me in his Dress Navy Whites, hands on hips and grinning for all the world to see. His teeth, his uniform, the sun were all the same indescribable white. I donít think he stayed long, not even for dinner. Later my Dad told me you canít just walk around pretending to be in the navy, especially during wartime.
Uncle Dave is teaching me how to throw a football. Frankie Gelinas tried at school but the other kids saw and made fun of him until stopped, and I came home crying. My Uncle stands behind me, gently placing my fingers on the stitches, describing the action of the wrist that will make the ball spiral. He pulls my arm back, I throw, the ball tumbles a short, awkward, end over end distance. Uncle Dave slits his eyes against the sun, makes a kind of whistling hiss through his teeth and goes inside.
Itís Thanksgiving. We stalled dinner three hours but Uncle Dave hasnít showed. Dadís carving as an early snow begins to fall. Suddenly the dining room window rattles up and Uncle Dave is climbing through, a childís foolish smile lighting up his ruddy face. Then he gets yanked back out the window. Dad sighs, gets up, shuts the window and resumes carving. I ask him if he isnít worried, but he says it was probably the police or the FBI that got his brother. A few of errant snow flakes melt on the carpet.
Momís making blueberry pancakes. As Iím pouring syrup, I realize the berries and burn marks on mine make a perfect picture of Uncle Dave. I try to show Stevie (now Steve since graduation), but the syrup has already sunk in. "If thatís anyone" my Brother says, "itís Jack Parr"
Coming home from College at Easter I get out to stretch my legs at the Greyhound station in Springfield Mass. I buy a cup of coffee and sit on a bench next to a homeless guy. He hisses at me. I notice a twinkle in his eye, the pale demarcation between make-up and false beard. "Hang on to this for me, Kid" whispers Uncle Dave, pressing something into my hand. "It ainít safe for me to have it right now" Looking down I see one of those novelty rubber squids. The kind you used to throw against the wall and theyíd sort of stick for a moment and then come creeping down, leg over leg. Itís yellow. When I look up, heís gone.
I get a call from Uncle Dave about three in the morning. I take the cordless into the living room so I wonít wake up the kids. He says heís in Honduras with an infected leg. Heís had fever for a few days now. The Doc says the legís gotta go below the knee. He may not pull through and wants to tell his favorite nephew he loved him. I ask him about the squid. In the pause that follows I hear static and what may be South American crickets. "Shit," he says. "I could have sworn this was Stevieís number." The line goes dead.