My uncle Wayne died today.
When I was a kid, I was a pretty fucked-up, broken, nasty
little piece of work, and grown-ups had a tendency to treat me that way, too.
Besides my Dad, Uncle Wayne was the only grown-up I remember
going out of his way to be nice to me. He not only didn’t treat me like he
expected my head to start spinning around any second, but he treated me like an
equal. Not at all the usual grown-up/kid dynamic. He wanted to be my pal, and
until we up and moved away across the country, I reckon he was.
I think the way I relate to kids, even today, has the flavor
of the courtesy and friendly camaraderie with which he treated me. He always
seemed interested in what I had to say, and in the late ’60s, early ’70s, that
was mighty rare. It was still okay to wallop the hell out of your kids in
public at the time. A popular maxim was, “Children should be seen and not
heard.” Uncle Wayne, apparently, was unfamiliar with it.
When I got married, a whole lot of years later, Wayne showed
up and so did a bunch of his kids—and they all had to travel a long way to get
there, too. Another time we both happened to be visiting my mom in Tucson at
the same time and ended up going to Saturday evening Mass with my nephew, which
delighted Uncle Wayne to no end. The last time I spoke with him on the phone,
he reminisced about it.
He visited my Mom more than any other of her siblings, maybe
more than all of them put together. Not that her sibs were to blame; after all,
my Mom was the one who decided to put a couple thousand miles of America
between them. No, Wayne saw her a lot because he liked to travel. Even in
retirement, he was always going somewhere, doing something, having fun and bringing it with him wherever he went. Usually with a
cocktail or two nearby.
It was not a bad way to live.
He was also my Mom’s most dedicated phone correspondent
among her siblings. Mom really lit up when she spoke about their phone calls;
so what if the cocktail or two usually nearby occasionally made it hard to
follow exactly what “Windy,” his longtime nickname, was saying. His tone was
full of good will and easy humor. He didn’t judge, he didn’t preach, and he
always left her with a bounce in her voice.
His ticker gave out today while he was off on holiday in
Mexico. One assumes he went quickly—no horrid extended battles with pernicious
disease, nor torturous gradual loss of faculty. One minute he was no doubt
enjoying a refreshing beverage on the beach of one of his favorite vacation
getaways, the next he’s knocking on St. Peter’s gate.
As these things go, it was not a bad way to go.
I’m going to miss knowing we are sharing the same world. His
example gave me hope as a kid, and made me a better person toward kids as an
adult; I salute you, Wayne Barker. Requiescat in pace