Sunday, February 5, 2012

7 Days of Bob: Uncle Bob

I grew up with two Uncle Bobs in family parlance. The other was a Great Uncle by the technical definition and much farther away geographically.

But this Uncle Bob was close. Just 62 miles north of my hometown, those cousins and aunt and uncle are my second nuclear family.

And yet for years, Bob was a mystery to me. Completely and utterly.

For one, he's tall. Much taller (particularly to a child) than my average-height father. Louder. Booming voice, boisterous laugh. My father loves jokes but his laugh is less in the face than uttered or, more precisely, set loose as Bob's is. Bob's is contagious and clear: appreciated joy!

Business owner and Boss, Bob ran the newspaper. He had a large office, he walked the floor there with purpose and some measure of humility. I recall the old building and its machines from olden days, I recall helping to paint the new building (early '80s?). I recall picking up sticky paper bits from the floor, rolling them onto sheets, but not really knowing why other than that Bob needed or wanted it done and was willing to pay us. Adulthood has since explained the 'need' for jobs for little girls and an excuse to give them some pennies. I recall being a newspaperboy ("Extra, extra, read all about it!") for the Record-Herald's float in the 1984 Centennial parade. And I recall thousands of trips up to "the shop" when I was in Cando and we'd all go, just to stop in or for someone to cajole some pocket money for treats or a movie rental.

But, I always felt shy around Uncle Bob.  Even though I knew my cousins loved him, I just didn't know what to do with this tall, loud red-haired uncle. I watched, I wondered. I saw hugs, I watched him play cards and support family members.

Then one time, he bought my cousins a giant stuffed elephant, quickly christened Walter. And Walter was lounging in the entryway when I came to visit. And that was the first time I understood: Uncle Bob was whimsical. He was sweet on his daughters and cared for them deeply. That gift of an elephant peeled away a layer to Uncle Bob that allowed me a glimpse of who "Poopsie" was to them.

I later spent not just weekends or holidays up in Cando, but two full summers, as I worked on the seed potato crew and BobKat were gracious enough to host me for free. By that time, in college, I could hold real conversations and engage in serious topics (OJ's trial, sports, smalltown life and North Dakota politics). I saw a much more holistic picture of a man: father, newspaperman, son, husband, uncle, neighbor and community member.

And I enjoyed Bob. I enjoyed his unexpected wit and laughter, I admired his commitment and dedication to Cando and its people, I aspired to his knowledge of history and analysis of current events. And I reveled in finally understanding his humanity. And thus, my Uncle Bob became great Uncle Bob, too.

Happy Birthday to you!

--Cousin J

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