Thursday, March 31, 2016

Death and Intersections

Russell Pope, February 14, 1947 - March 23, 2016.
The day I learned that my uncle passed away, I spent the afternoon staring at the computer screen, making false starts to type up notes about project status. Eventually I gave up and did what I really wanted to do - write about my Uncle Russ.

He was a tough man, tall, with a salt and pepper beard, wild eyes, and an ever-present earring made
from a rat’s jawbone. He was an iron worker and a welder, and had, in his youth, served in the Army. Russ wore black leather jackets and rode a Harley. He drank a lot. He cussed. He didn’t take advice, and for most of my life, he scared me a little bit.

But he could be kind. One year during our family’s white elephant Christmas gift exchange – which sadly replaced the chaotic free-for- all I had grown up loving – I ended up with a tacky magic set. Russ took it, freeing me to choose something closer to my liking.

When I was a kid, my sister and I played often with his two boys. One winter day as we all rode in the backseat of Russ’s car, my uncle unleashed a torrent of cold weather survival advice.

“Stay dry!” he warned us. “Keep your hands warm. If you need to, stick ‘em in your armpits. Or your

I figured that was good advice – go where the warmth is.

Many years later, after college and when I had grown weary of living in the Washington, DC rat race, I mentioned that I planned to move to Montana.

“You’ll freeze your ass off,” Russ said.

“Maybe. But I have a really, really good coat,” I said. It wasn’t a great answer, but it was the truth.

He could be funny, too. We came from hardy Pennsylvania stock – winters meant ice skating and sled riding. We all grabbed boots and sleds one night at a local hill and zipped across the snow. My uncle watched, incredulous, as an immigrant family brought out empty plastic milk jugs, bits of carpet, and other objects as makeshift sleds.

“What are they gonna do next, take the damn hubcaps off the car?” he muttered.

Wherever he is, I hope Russ is warm, and comfortable. Maybe I didn’t know him well – and he didn’t know me – but as I write this, I can laugh a little, and I can remember. I can remember the times when we intersected. And the intersections, after all, are what we leave in our wake when we are gone.

No comments:

Post a Comment