Summer in the late 1970s always included a visit from Uncle George and family. One of my mom’s five brothers, he had moved to this mysterious place where Vikings came from called “The Twin Cities” and was the only of her siblings to move out of the area where they grew up. I loved when he and his family came to visit. George would give a lot of advice to all of us kids. Most of the time, when I would repeat this advice to my parents, they would explain that George was “full of BS” and not take what he said too seriously. Then, they would send me back to him to get the answer for what letters “BS” meant.
Summers were usually hot and humid, made more so by the cigarette smoke that would fill our kitchen. During George’s visits, the evenings were full of noise and new words, (which I was instructed never to repeat). My aunts and uncles would gather at Grandma’s or our house (we lived three houses away from my grandparents) and play cards, drink Pabst Blue Ribbon and smoke cigarettes. The card games among Ray, Jim, George, Barbara, their spouses and my parents seemed to go late into the night. Though thinking about it, I was a little kid, so it probably wasn’t all that late, really.
I could tell many stories about Uncle George. I could tell about how my grandmother would pound on the kitchen ceiling with her broomstick, (directly under his bedroom), to get him up for chores on the farm, or work in the factory, or to get back to college. I could tell of how he was really good at winning things at county fair-type games. He once won a stuffed animal or something for my mom, (he called her “Kid”), and hid it in a bassinnet. He told her that he had won something for her, but she would have to pull back the blanket to see what it was. She was terrified and took a week to work up the courage to uncover the teddy bear (or whatever it was). He told my brother of a little “misunderstanding” that happened at the University of Wisconsin which resulted in his fraternity getting kicked off campus. He said many times that people were just too sensitive. He had a great sense of humor. He had nicknames for all of us. Popper, Lester, Stoney, Kid, Erickson, Clarkson.. we all answered to whatever he said because he was fun to be around.
Over the last many years he had faced some serious health problems. Each time, my mom would call me and say that she was worried his condition was grave. She was thankful his kids were taking such good care of him. Each time, he came through determined to golf in Arizona for the winter. Also over the last few years, Barbara, one of my mom’s sisters, was leaving us as a result of Alzheimer’s Disease. Barbara passed away in the beginning of November. George came down for her funeral and talked with as many as he could in the family. He still called my mom “Kid”.
While visiting with my mom over their sister’s funeral, he had shared that he had no regrets and he was thankful for his life experiences over his many years. George passed away this past Thanksgiving. Knowing he was content with the life he led brought peace to many in our family. The funeral, I was told, was a true celebration of his life. He would have liked the party, my mom said. There were many toasts to George and all the joy he brought to people.
The uncles that used to gather at my parents house in the summer have all passed on. My memories of them are filled with summer evenings filled with family, laughter and a healthy dose of BS. I would like to think that they have reunited at the kitchen table in heaven to play cards. I imagine St. Peter, St Jude or St. Balthasar shaking their heads, wondering who let these clowns in anyway, as they curse at each other, deal cards, smoke and drink their Pabst Blue Ribbon.
To George! With love, Erickson