I lost a good friend and mentor yesterday, my Uncle Robert, who was part of my life since the mid 50’s. He tried to teach me, among other things, how to sail a boat, drive a standard shift, maintain a car, and shoot shotguns and pistols. I say tried to teach me because I was an inept, nervous little idiot that most often proved to be a difficult student. This brought out the patient part of his nature which got me through the lessons unscathed – although he lost a clutch and almost his new sailboat in the process.
Some of the best memories are of time spent in his garage with him and my father, maintaining the fleet of family cars on Saturday mornings. I was in my twenties during this period, when all you needed to do this were ratchet wrench and socket sets, feeler gauges, and a timing light. We did tune ups, oil changes, brake jobs, and other assorted tasks. That was a special time learning from the masters, telling stories, breaking chops, and stealing each others hand tools.
Those times ended when electronics and pollution control systems took over under the hood and the simple tools were no longer enough to get the job done. Uncle Robert and I still spent time together and I visited him and my Aunt Bonnie often over the weekends. He and I went to the shooting range together on occasion, or just took a ride somewhere.
For four or five years in the early 2000s, I joined him and his camping crew at 4 scheduled weekend trips every summer at Austin Hawes Campground in Barkhamsted, CT. These were the best of times. The core crew of campers during my run were my uncle (known thereafter as The Camp Commander), his son Bobby (the best camp cook you could ever hope for, and a great friend of mine), his exceptionally humorous brother-in-law Sal (who started camping with The Camp Commander much earlier), and me. The nights around the camp fire, occasional treks into the woods or up the mountain, and general comradeship with its nonstop banter and jibes made for some of the happiest times of my life.
Uncle Robert was robbed of his well deserved retirement by illness all to soon after it started. And selfishly I must add, I was robbed as well. I looked forward to spending a lot of time with him after I retired, picturing us as a couple of stumble bums, driving or hiking around at will. Second only to my father, he was the most influential person in my life as far back as I can remember. It was all good, and he will be greatly missed.