Weekend Wanderer: What Does It Take to Raise a Kid?
If you read this column with any regularity, you may ask yourself how, exactly, one raises an adult fearful of reptiles and swimming over sunken ships.
Well, you surround her, as a child, with a few good men.
I don’t mean Marines, although 50 percent of the men I’m about to discuss are Marines.
What I mean is people of different ilk, abilities, strengths, and just plain places in their lives.
I was lucky to have four men, all quite different, imprinted upon me.
I mean, none of them bred my many fears. I’m sure they would knock some sense into me if I shared the depths of my phobias.
Depths — ugh. Like the depth of water. With all its terrible, scary things.
Let’s not think about that.
Let’s think about my godfather. Who is also my cousin.
Who is also my godfather.
How does one’s cousin become one’s godfather? I was going to say it’s because he’s much, much, much, much older than me.
But he sent me an incredibly kind text last week. So I won’t say he’s significantly older than me, even though it’s true.
He’s reading this, right now. Reading about himself. Like the protagonist in The NeverEnding Story.
Anyway. My cousin became my godfather because he ate two slices of pie.
See, as a newlywed, Willie made this wretched pumpkin pie.
My godfather — well, he asked for a second slice. So, as a reward, he was tasked with me.
Probably never ate pie again.
My godfather himself became a father while living in Buffalo. Beginning around age nine, I was often dispatched to Buffalo, to help with his kids.
I visited cities — and Canada! — my siblings never saw. I was given responsibilities beyond my years. I stayed in the same hotel as Robert Redford.
And, lest I topple into the rushing water, I was told to stay away from the railings at Niagara Falls.
That scuba meltdown is less mysterious, right?
Next up is Uncle John. He’s Indy’s younger brother, but Uncle John had kids — like everyone else, it seems — long before Indy.
Uncle John had a camper in a trailer park in Buttonwood Beach, Maryland. With Willie’s weekends occupied by school — Willie went to college for 15 years while I was growing up — Indy was left to entertain three kids.
Enter Buttonwood Beach.
Now, is Uncle John warm and fuzzy? No. He once yanked a paperback from my hands because I was breaking the binding, having it folded back as I did.
It was my book.
But, with grown kids of his own, Uncle John had that thing many parents develop as their kids grow. He had faith that I would be fine, just fine, if he and Indy simply left me the heck alone.
He’d also gotten used to drinking without kids underfoot.
“Here,” Uncle John said as he handed me the keys to his golf cart one glorious Saturday. “Go to the beach.”
At barely 13, this is what weekends at Buttonwood Beach became. My younger brother and I drove — drove! — Uncle John’s golf cart around the trailer park. We’d swim in the — what? Lake? River? — at Buttonwood Beach.
No parents. No lifeguards.
We weren’t kidnapped. We didn’t drown. And only one of us has a crippling fear of things unseen in the water. So, success.
This brings us to Indy. Indy, who smelled like oil, except on Sundays when he smelled like Old Spice. Indy, who called me “babe” until he couldn’t anymore, and my father-in-law took over so I wouldn’t fall apart.
And who, you know, sent me off in a golf cart to swim unsupervised while he and Uncle John drank the day away.
And who went to Marion’s bar in Nepal and never came back.
Ugh. Does that ever get easier?
The last of this list is Uncle Ron. Uncle Ron married Willie’s sister the year after Willie married Indy and long before I came along. Which is to say that Uncle Ron was always there.
He was there when I was born. He was there when my kids were born.
And he was there when Indy went to Marion’s bar in Nepal.
Uncle Ron was always there. His parents were Polish immigrants, so I know babcia is Polish for grandmother and kielbasa is better spicy. I have Uncle Ron’s carpentry and his father’s metalwork in my house. I have pictures of him dancing at my wedding.
What Uncle Ron taught me was stability. For a child, stability counts when everything else is, as Indy would say, rocking the boat.
But on Easter Sunday, Uncle Ron quite abruptly joined Indy at Marion’s bar in Nepal.
For two of my four men to go to Nepal, for my mom and her sister to be widowed four months apart — it’s surreal. I can’t wrap my mind around eating Easter dinner seated between them a year ago.
And this year eating Easter dinner without them.
I think about my godfather and Uncle John. Where will they be in a year? I’ve signed them up for colonoscopies and Instacarted broccoli to their front doors because I really can’t lose anyone else.
If I close my eyes, I am back at last year’s Easter table. I can see Indy and Uncle Ron’s worn, blue-collar hands. I can feel their stalwart presence, as eternal as Stonehenge.
And that’s the point, isn’t it? These men of mine layered me with experiences, like time layers the Earth’s sediment. Their lessons roll back to me, these things my men have taught me.
To have faith in myself.
To get in the water.
And yeah. To have a beer.
And this one is to you, Uncle Ron.
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