Uncle Wayne was a woodsman at heart. I learned how to paint a house, fix a window, shoot a rifle, sharpen knives, fall a tree, split and stack wood and build a fire from him. In most of my childhood memories he is welding together some contraption of his own creation or re-building some machine–from printing presses to log splitters to the old international truck that sat in my grandparent’s barn. And, he was usually humming or singing a ballad as he worked. I loved to hear my uncle sing, almost as much as I love to hear my father play the piano.
Uncle Wayne had a natural affinity for children and all his nieces and nephews adored him. Not just because he built a see-saw and swing in the farm yard, but because being with Uncle Wayne was exciting and fun. There was always something to learn, build, fix, discover or laugh about.
Once, he took me on a trip to see my grandmother. Oddly, I was the only child around on this particular trip. One morning, he put a cement block on one side of the see-saw and me on the other and said he had work to do. Eventually, I abandoned the see-saw and started to pester him. He put me back on the see-saw, drew a face on the block, told me to tell it a story and laughed. Perhaps this is when I took to telling myself long and complicated stories? 🙂
On another memorable occasion, my sister and I were riding with him from NJ to Maine with a tub in the back of his pinto station wagon. Somewhere in CT, he saw two swans on the highway: one had been killed and the other was injured. He pulled over, darted between the MAC trucks and rescued the injured swan. My sister and I rode the rest of the way to Maine with one very angry swan hissing at us from the tub and Uncle Wayne telling us to stop being ‘fraidy’ cats…that the swan was more scared of us than we were of it. I still don’t believe it. Luckily, the swan’s neck was a few inches short of pecking distance. Once in Maine, Uncle Wayne set the swan’s wing. As the swan healed he became slightly less belligerent, eventually flying back off into the wild.
After spending his youth, in my aunt’s words ‘footloose and fancy free,’ Uncle Wayne married in his 60’s. His wife and children brought him a great deal of joy, and I will always picture him with his daughter in his arms and son on his knee, grinning as he sung to them both.
Uncle Wayne wrote poetry when the mood suited him, and this morning the last line of one of his poems keeps running through my head:
This morning, he followed his heart to it’s home. I hope it’s a home where deer abound, there’s plenty of wood to widdle and giant tin mug of coffee by his side that never runs dry.