by Michael S.
My uncle Harry was bigger than life. I
didn’t know who would show to pick me up but it was him. I expected him to roll
up in a Lamborghini this time or a chauffeured stretch limo or even a fire
truck with sirens blaring. It wouldn’t have been out of character for him. But
as it was, this foggy evening, out of the mist, bright headlights flashed at me
on the wet curb. He beeped his horn twice and swung in front of me, popping the
trunk. He drove a classic ’73 Corvette with a paint job that changed colors like
a chameleon under the florescent lights.
“Hey, Michael,” he said, rising out of
the driver’s door, thick black hair blowing in the wind as he rushed around the
car. Overcoat flapping.
Cars drove by and others pulled alongside
coming to a squealing halt to pick up passengers. People bustled by pulling
baggage behind and porters helped them. A plane flew overhead and the tumult
was lost in the roar.
I couldn’t make out what Harry was
saying when he glided up and wrapped me in a bear hug, squeezing me with a
strength I thought left him long ago. Such was Harry, he had an effortless way
of slicing through traffic, and crowds, red tape and difficult situations, like
a hot knife through butter.
“…the flight?” he was saying.
“The flight? Yeah, good flight, all
good, Harry,” I shouted over the cacophony of cars, planes, whistles and loud
“How are you feeling?”
felt better,” he smiled and patted his chest, “Let’s get out of here,”
had to agree, he looked good. And I wanted to get away from the noise.
But right in the middle of the hubbub of
the airport, he looked at me, his eyes resonating a peace from within. It drew
me in and for a second I sank into a lull.
The clamor of the world disappeared and a stillness came over me like staring into
a silent universe, one inside another, and another, and on and on forever.
I snapped out of my reverie, and Harry grinned.
Something about him. More confidence? More vigor? I couldn’t decide. I threw my
one bag in the trunk. Harry said, “We’ve got to make a detour on the way to the
house,” his overcoat swished in the wind before he disappeared on the driver’s
I hopped in. Nice interior. Warm, plush,
and very quiet. So quiet I couldn’t hear the outside discord of the world. I
turned to Harry who looked straight ahead, collar up, long hair obscuring his
“Where to?” I said.
“A detour,” he said and sliced through
traffic like a thought on the wind.
Lights whirled as he sped up. Harry, always a reckless
driver, seemed hell bent for time. His
arms straight out, gripping the wheel tight. We swerved around cars faster and
faster until I stopped looking out the side windows. It was making me dizzy. I
stared straight ahead and watched the lights pass us on the sides until my
insides went giddy and I shut my eyes.
A memory rose in me of a time before
high school when I spent a week with him, my aunt and cousin, racing his
Mercedes sedan down the highway, playing cat and mouse with some unknown driver,
ending with Harry reaching into the glove box and brandishing his .44 Magnum
revolver, barrel waving in the air at the motorist. The man’s eyes widened, and
he moved on shortly after with his middle finger in the air. And Harry laughed.
“Whoa, Harry,” I said, almost sick to my
stomach, “what’s going on? Can you slow down?” as I asked the question I felt
my insides lift like someone pumped me full of helium. Time slowed and a
perfect sense of calm and peace took over. I didn’t care if we exploded or
careened off a cliff. I was carried, weightless through a vacuum in perfect
synergy with circumstance.
I began to feel the sensation of moving backward,
floating. In apprehension, I cracked
my lids and stark realization hit when I
was still seated, but the lights outside were moving backward like going warp speed
in a tunnel. It was all around us,
long streaming lights of purple, blues and gold, and colors I’ve never seen
before. My mind, having trouble working this out, closed my eyes on reflex. And
after a period when I felt nothing at all, I ventured to open them again.
I found myself seated on a wooden bench,
surrounded by boys around nine years old, dressed in baseball uniforms. I had
the sensation of participating and observing at the same time. Sitting on the
bench among friends, loud baseball chatter, spitting sunflower seeds, throwing
gloves against the dugout, sunshine in our eyes. The smell of cut grass and
leather mitts was strong.
I took a deep breath, unconcerned with
how and when I got here, but rather, illogically, accepting and sinking into
the role, acquiesced.
Simultaneously, I saw my nine-year-old self, inside
the dugout, turning
attention from the action on the ballfield to a loud, raucous Harley Davidson motorcycle
pulling up to the ballfield in the dirt parking lot. Bike revving and dust
flying, everybody in the stands turned to look.
The fact it was loud was disturbing to
me. It broke the sanctity of the game which had been a church to me. It was my
aunt Mel and her new boyfriend, Harry. They were both eighteen. My aunt, in hip-hugger
hot pants, young, with long brown hair and hot as hell, had every man’s
attention as she lifted off the back of the bike and shook off the kinks of the
road. Including my coach, who said:
“Damn, who is that?” He couldn’t take
his eyes off her.
“My aunt, and her boyfriend,” my brother,
Pat, said. Embarrassment and jealousy shot through me. After all, my hot-looking aunt,
just a few years
older than I, was with this young man with long hair. An interloper, an intruder,
to the family and to the sanctity and purity of baseball.
“Very cool,” an older teammate said.
I scoffed, but a kernel of pride began
to swell pushing aside any sense of embarrassment I might have felt. And they
were very cool, and almost ten years
older than me, despite their unreserved tone they set on their entrance.
They sauntered up to the back of the
dugout made of chain-link.
“Hey, Mel,” I said, and more reluctant,
“Hey, Mikey, Pat,” my aunt chimed, “you
“Yep, O’course,” my brother said
proudly. It was the year we were champions.
“Your Dad couldn’t make it,” Harry said,
discreetly, almost in a whisper as he got
close to the chain-link.
“Okay,” my brother said, looking down.
But he recovered quickly, infatuated with Harry’s long hair and bike.
I nodded to my aunt and her boyfriend
and I knew my father wasn’t at the game because he had too much to drink and
was probably home nursing his second or third highball. And even though I was
sad and hurt he couldn’t make it, I was grateful they did. More than I could
say. It meant a lot to me that someone from my family was there to watch. It
was the game that made us regional champions. And I knew if it hadn’t been for
Harry, my aunt’s new boyfriend, no one would have shown. He seemed to take a
liking to me and my brothers, for
whatever reason and liked to show up
unexpected at our sporting events. And the thought made me soften towards him a
I became the observer and melted into my
senses. I became filled with the warm breeze, the smell of cut grass, the
splash of orange poppies in the field next to us and a sky so beautiful, John
Constable couldn’t do it justice if he tried to paint it.
I had a sense of fading backward and it all vanished
in a blink as I became
suspended like floating in the air.
Before my eyes opened I was being
pushed, then hit in the breadbasket, I couldn’t breathe. I sucked air and
pushed back, tried to swing against whomever and caught nothing but air. I gasped
and opened my eyes to my boyhood home
in Santa Cruz. Standing in the family room, TV blaring, my brother before me. He
grabbed my collar with one hand and drew back for a haymaker. I rushed him,
hitting him in the wind and pushing against his bodyweight with all I had,
stumbling into the wall, both of us in tight grips on each other. Pushing, shoving,
trying to get a punch in. He outweighed me by a hundred pounds and I was about
to get my ass kicked.
“Hey, Hey! What’s going on?!” I heard a
Harry, now my uncle, squeezed his body
between me and my brother, separating us. No small task. On pushing us apart my
brother reached me with a roundhouse and hit me a good one, sending sparks of
light shooting through my brain and making my eyes water.
“Come on! That was a cheap shot!” he barked
at my brother. He pushed my brother against the wall and stared him down until he
wilted. He turned and asked if I was alright. And swallowing the lump in my
throat I mouthed the words, ‘Yeah, I’m okay.’ Then I felt his hand on my
shoulder as he walked me outside.
My heart pumped and I brushed away a
“You’ll be okay, bud,” he said, patting
my back in a paternal way, “life is going to deal you some cheap shots, believe
me. All of us have to take them, including me.” And I looked at him, grateful
as hell he’d been there. And not just for breaking up the fight but for the
small pep talk I was receiving.
“And someday you’ll be older and bigger
and able to kick your brother’s ass!” he said, shaking his fist in my face grinning.
And I laughed. He broke the seriousness and lent it the brevity I needed to
lighten my heart.
“Thanks, Harry,” I mumbled as we walked,
his hand on my shoulder. We talked until I had calmed down.
Again, the observer, I watched my thirteen-year-old
self and Harry talk, but I
had no sense of point of view, I was looking at them from all angles. Then my
consciousness was sucked into the vortex, falling backward, tumbling. There was no
up or down. No sense of how long
I’d been there. Then breath came and my eyes opened.
The chartered boat rocked horribly,
stern to bow. I felt sick and green in the gills. I wanted it to end, to be on
dry land. Harry walked up to me, put his arm around my shoulders, “You look
pretty sick, devil-dog, do you want to go back?”
“No---,” I said.
On leave from the Marine Corps, I decided to give
my favorite aunt and
uncle a call and spend the weekend. Uncle Harry took me fishing in the Bay, and
lunch on the pier. We were on a charter boat, five hours already, and I wasn’t
looking forward to lunch anymore. The other clients on the boat looked
hardcore, fishing hats, working man’s pants with plaid parkas, weathered faces
and calloused hands that had been dealing with fishing hooks for a lifetime.
I wanted to say ‘yes’, I wanted to say, ‘turn the boat
around, please!’ but I was too
embarrassed and ashamed. My twenty-one-year-old
pride wouldn’t allow me. And Harry looked at me with eyes that not only asked
the question but eyes that cared what the answer was. I tried to smile and lost
my breakfast over the railing to the disgust and amusement of the men on the
boat. I sat down to breathe, my arms crossed on the rail, my head down. Harry
left me to speak to the captain, and when he returned he sat down, patted my
shoulder and said;
“We’re going back, Michael”
“Harry,” (gasp), “you didn’t have to---“
“It’s okay, buddy, we're going back.”
“I don’t want to ruin everyone else’s
fishing trip, Harry.”
“They’re being compensated for their
loss, believe me” he patted my shoulder, “enough to come out another day and
catch as many fish as they like.”
“Ah, ah, ah---” (holding up his hand), “I
don’t want to hear it, Michael, you’re sick and miserable, buddy, we’re going
“Okay,” I relented. “Thank you,
Harry---,” I spewed over the side one
more time and the ocean became a whirling kaleidoscope of glass and color before
I got sucked back into the cyclone, suspended, until I found myself floating
along the road in Harry’s corvette, once again.
I looked to my right, Harry’s face,
still hidden in shadow looked straight ahead.
“Harry---,” I could barely breathe, “What
the hell was that!?” Shaking, my
“A detour,” he said, simply,
and I heard the
smirk on his lips.
The car roared
and slowed to a stop in front of his house, and I sat motionless. Out of sorts and
out of breath. Drained of emotion. I
felt the soft leather seat against my legs and back. I turned to Harry, and he
looked at me with eyes glowing from within, no longer dark brown but an amber
hue. My mind no longer questioned it. It couldn’t. It didn’t know where to
begin. My beating heart slowed when his gaze locked with mine.
Uncertainty gave way to a comfort that
resonated with me. Permeating every fiber
of my being.
“I have to go,” he said, sticking out
his hand and I stared at it.
“I have no doubt,” I said, ignoring his
hand and leaning across the seat I hugged him, fully. Then he sat back and I
got out. My body, still trembling, felt like a fluffy bag of helium about to
lift off the ground. A giddiness rose in me. He popped the trunk and I grabbed
I leaned down into the car.
“What do you want me to tell Mel?” I
asked, my clarity sharpened and I heard his
response not so much with words vibrating on air but as thoughts I could feel:
“Tell her--- I’ll be back.” And I felt
what he said, resonate through me, sinking in, worming its way to my core. It
left me without a cross feeling in the world and forced me to smile.
“Okay,” I said, simply.
He smiled back, sinking into the shadows.
The window rolled up. The engine roared and he disappeared into traffic,
shimmering purple, green, then blue and was gone before I could blink. Or did I
blink and then he was gone? I can’t remember. I stood on the curb looking down
the road after him. But I do remember Mel
and a handful of relatives pouring out of the house when they heard the
corvette engine so close.
Mel ran up and hugged me. She’d been
“So glad you made it, Mikey.”
“I came as quick as I could.”
“I know---,” she sighed, struggling for
words, she looked tired.
“Harry picked me up--- said he’d be right
Her eyes widened, concern and disbelief
“He’s gone you know? You just missed
him,” she choked, “just this evening. It was a beautiful sunset outside the
hospital window and I sat and held his hand as he passed,” she broke and sobbed.
My cousin Sam ran out and hugged me, her
eyes brimming over.
you! Where were you? Why didn’t you call when you got here?” She stammered,
excitement masking the sadness in her eyes. “I thought your plane was landing a
few hours ago?”
“It did--- I,” searching to find words
in my bewilderment, I remember what Harry had said, “I went on a detour,” was
all I could say. “Let’s go inside, I’ll tell you about it if I can, but some of
it’s beyond me, so I don’t know if it’ll make sense.”
you, Michael, I needed to see myself through your eyes. I heard Uncle Harry’s words as plain as day, and looking at the
others I knew I was the only one that heard them. After a pause, I said:
“Come on, Mel. This story’s for you,
We walked inside and joined the wake
that had already begun for Uncle Harry.
Michael Stewart works as a
Designer/Architect for a major high-tech company in Puget Sound, North of
He spent 4 years in the Marine Corps and held various jobs including
shoveling manure, working in an Animal Clinic, swamping cherries in the orchards,
driving a cab, a personal trainer, digging ditches with a hand shovel, and bus
He is married to a wonderful woman who supports his writing. A nurse with years
in the spotlight as a circus performer and fitness professional. His
step-son has an adventurous spirit, like his mother and is a mechanical
engineer on a fishing boat in the Bering Sea. He has two talented and beautiful
daughters currently attending UW.
He and his wife enjoy an outdoor
lifestyle, and their peace and quiet.