Self-Portrait # 11: Uncle Bobby

Blog Childhood Leg I am five-years-old. The darkness enfolds me like a warm, comfy blanket. A soft light shines from the other room. I am tucked in my cot next to my parents’ double bed in the barn wood room of my grandparent’s schoolhouse.

“Put the kids to bed and we’ll bring out the ice cream,” my Uncle Bobby jokes, but he comes in to rub my feet before I fall asleep. It is something I remember in the years to come, first, when he is my boss at his granite company and later, when our families go through a falling out. Things are better now, but in the dark times, I remembered moments like this, when he was just my uncle and I was a little kid. The thing about special memories like this is that they can be a glue and a bridge to hold relationships together and to help cross a gulf until things are okay again.

I love my uncle.

I’m not sure where this picture of us was taken, but we spent a lot of time together when I was little. He was in the Coast Guard Academy and he would bring home friends to my grandparents’ schoolhouse. My parents and my brother and I would travel down to camp out with them for the weekend.

When I was older and my uncle married, his wife Lynn pierced my ears with a needle and some ice. She taught me how to make Christmas ornaments out of walnuts and cotton balls so they looked like little mice. She taught me the words and hand signals to a song we’d sign around the campfire “His Banner over Me is Love.”

When Bobby and Lynn had children, they would come down to our house and swim in the pool and we would eat big family meals around my grandmother’s large dining room table at the schoolhouse.

I don’t remember this photo, but it is a rare shot of us together, but I have memories to fill the gap.

I didn’t have time to take a new photo with my uncle for this project, although he only lives 30 miles away. I see him often when I visit my 92-year-old grandmother, who now lives with him, and when they travel down this way to visit us. We even go out to eat together at Cockadoodle Pizza Café, our local haunt. Instead, I chose to recreate the setting and the substance of the photo, but this time with my constant companion Alfie. I love how she studies me in this photo. This is her natural stance.

Growing up, neither side of our family was particularly a dog lover. My uncle got his first dog, a black lab named Daisy about the same time I got my first pug Vader. They both died within weeks of each other. When my Uncle Bobby interacted with Daisy, I saw a side of him that was more playful, less serious. He would get down on the floor and rub her belly. My grandmother said he cried when Daisy died.

Dogs bring out the best in people. They are a catalyst for creating warm memories. In the summer, I now often bring my pugs to my uncle’s pool. He always surprises me with his warmth towards them. They seem to make him smile. His genuine affection towards these creatures and our mutual appreciation of them are another bridge and a glue that binds us. I cross it and know love.

Blog Adult Leg copy