I have murky but pleasant memories of my mom’s older brother JC. That’s because most of them were formed a long time ago; I haven’t seen Uncle JC in at least ten years. That’s not because of any drama or animosity, it’s just a thing that’s happened in the way that someone moves from being someone you see regularly to someone that you don’t even though you still think of them fondly, in that way people drift away and become stars in your night sky rather than satellites or birds or helicopters, whatever proximal celestial body works as a metaphor.
Uncle JC was always a calm and friendly presence. I don’t remember what he drove exactly (as contrasted with vivid memories of Aunt Ruby’s green ’68 Mustang or Uncle James’ beige early-70s Electra 225 or Wook’s white ’68 Galaxie fastback, but I associated him with early-80s GM products, a big Oldsmobile or Buick perhaps, anything with the dark burgundy or dark blue plushy velour seats in back. I associate Uncle JC with cheerful smiles sitting on the shadeless porch in Thomaston, and with seamed skin darkened by genetics and the sun so that his fingernails seemed to shine. They were the sort of hands that were quick to transfer the cigarette to the corner of his mouth and jump in to help you tie a shoe, or string a worm on a hook, or replace a stubborn battery. When the astonishingly vicious and free-roaming dogs that lived down the street chased us kids, JC’s house was the safe space to run to, and if he was on the porch, even safer.
Uncle JC played bass in a gospel band. Somewhere he’s on an album cover, wearing a white leisure suit that matches the rest of them.
JC was a fisherman (I know, right? When you see it, you can’t unsee it.).
Family history that’s more fact than apocrypha tells of the time that the pond at the cabin up north became infested with pike, who were subsequently eating the fish that my father and Uncle Jim had put in the pond, and they weren’t sure how to get them out. After much experimentation with high-tech methods, JC flew up from Georgia to hang out at the cabin for a weekend, and went down there with his pole and bucket and cigarettes, and by the end of the weekend he’d caught all of the pike in that pond. And if some of the facts of that story have wandered away from the truth, if he took more equipment than I thought or if it took him more than a weekend, then bah! Let the myth stand as the truth from this point forward, because it’s an awesome story and I will happily inflate JC’s legend.
His funeral’s this Thursday. I couldn’t make it down to Georgia for it, but truth be told, I hate funerals enough that I only feel about 40% bad about not being able to be there. That’s never been how I grieve. Uncle JC may not have been one of the closest stars in my night sky but he was a treasured part of a favorite constellation, and when we’re hanging out this weekend I’m going to fry some fish in his honor, okay? I think that’ll be fitting.