Sixteen years ago to the day I woke up on the floor with a bunch of scooterists and skaters, to a phone call. I didn’t even really know where I was. I mean, I knew I was in San Francsico, but the other details (who’s house? What neighborhood? Did I crash my bike last night?) were fuzzy.
“Chad? Your mom is on the phone.”
It felt like a dream. I knew the call would be about my uncle. That he had died. I didn’t know how she had found me. I couldn’t have found me.
“Uncle Frank just died.” Then the sound of total loss. The type of grief that makes you sound like an animal.
“Oh no, oh no, oh no.” I didn’t have anything better. What could be said? I hoped he would last a few more weeks; give me enough time to get home. But he saw something in the trip. It was silly and daring and he’d never get in the way of something great.
My Uncle Frank was a tremendous man. Everyone knew him. He was the kind of dad they wrote about in the 50s. Solid. Funny. Dirty jokes at the ready. He knew how to wind you up.
Over 400 people came to his funeral to see his purple and gold LSU coffin go into the ground. It wasn’t much more than plywood, but it had the right color and an “I’d rather be in Tiger Stadium” bumper sticker. When cancer made it impossible to slam a shot of Johnny Walker Red, he injected it right into his feeding tube.
The surgeries to remove everything that started as a little bump on his tongue had disfigured him. He looked like I imagined he would as an old man, near 100. I know it must’ve hurt but I never heard him complain. He could always make you laugh. He’d still turn up at games against Notre Dame with a “RUDY SUCKS” shirt.
When I decided to buy my first motorcycle, he consigned the loan. He rolled into the bank with an oxygen tank and a pack of cigarettes. After I signed the paperwork and had a check in my hand, my uncle asked the banker, “you know what’s great about this loan?”
“I don’t have to worry about him paying it back. I’ll be dead in 6 months.” He made a Fozzi Bear “wakka-wakka” face and spun on his heels and walked out fast.
I think about you all the time. You would’ve loved to see my house and my wife and our awful dogs. I know your grandkids would’ve made you deeply happy and your son is exactly like you in all the right ways.
I miss you. We all do.