This isn’t about farming or gardening. It’s not about being angry or smart-assed. It’s about saying good-bye to one of my heroes, my Uncle Donny. He passed last night unexpectedly, after a few hard years of health trouble.
I remember you from when I was a little girl in Florida. You came down to our house to clear trees, because you were a “Tree Surgeon.” I thought that meant you were a) a real doctor, and b) why would a real doctor be cutting down trees instead of healing them? You were like a spider monkey, climbing the trees with your spiked shoes and big ropes, brandishing a chain saw like you were a pine tree pirate. You had the first tattoo I ever saw. I thought you were the coolest person ever.
I remember visiting your little white farmhouse in Illinois. We Downer kids thought you were rich because you had a two-story house. We were also pretty sure you were from another country because your Chicago accent was so strong. I remember you had an earthworm farm in the basement, and it was exciting and scary as hell to go down there and smell those worms and creep along in the near-dark.
I remember you taking me to your neighbor’s house who had horses, because you knew I was obsessed and you wanted me to learn to ride, and shut up about it already. I didn’t want to walk home through the woods by myself, and I remember you telling me to “Toughen up and just do it,” and so I did.
I remember you and my other uncles getting shit-faced drunk at Uncle Chuck’s, and throwing bean bags and then punches. Then all of you laughing like idiots until all us cousins fell asleep when it got dark.
I remember you and the other Uncles and Grandma yelling at each other and then hugging. All cousins (and kids) were convinced you all were crazy.
I remember you and Uncle Chuck teaching me to throw elbows in a fight, “Because you got a big mouth and girl fists. You’d get your ass beat.” (And I never told you how many times that trick came in handy.)
I remember when my parents got divorced and you drove down to Florida with Uncle Chuck to bring me, Mom, and my brothers up to Chicago to live. You came in a U-Haul truck, and bitched and bitched about the heat and all the stuff we had. Then you drove us to our new home and helped us get settled in our new lives.
I remember opening day White Sox games and how OFFENDED you always were that I am a Cubbies fan. I remember you taking us to the press box at the old Blackhawks Stadium, and how regular seats at a Blackhawks game always sucked because they weren’t above center ice…
I remember what seemed like 40 Gabouer kid weddings, and you and Aunt Geri being dressed to the nines…
I remember you yelling, “Stell-Adele!” every time you saw my mom, and would hurry up to give us all hugs.
I remember the first time I saw your lake house in Indiana and how cool I thought you and Aunt Geri were, and that you’d finally “made it.”
I remember you asking me to ghost-write your autobiography, and how honored I was that you would ask me, knowing that I love to write. I remember how embarrassed you were over some of the stories, thinking I’d be offended, and then realizing that that’s pretty freaking hard to do with me.
I remember you and Uncle Chuck coming to our little lake house in Polo a few years ago, and how you two were like little kids about wanting cookies after dinner, and leaving me money on the toilet tank because never in the history of ever had two people filled up a septic tank so fast. I remember you being so proud of the fact that you used the ladies room at our local gas station, because, “AY! When you gotta go, you gotta go!”
I remember (three years ago) you taking me and my brother out on your boat at Lake Shafer, and me sitting all the way up front and you banging the waves so I’d fly around and scream and laugh until tears were streaming from my eyes. And when I screamed, “AGAIN! AGAIN!” like a two year-old, you obliged.
I remember your “Come to Jesus” meetings on the deck at Lake Shafer, when all they really were was a venue for telling more stories.
I remember talking to you for the first time in years when you were diagnosed with cancer, and we never really stopped the calls every month or two. I remember you taking time in the recent years to reach out to me through phone calls, whether to congratulate me on my engagement and wedding, or to yell at me for saying “fuck” so much on Facebook.
I remember you never stopped talking. From the early morning till you went to sleep, you always had a story. We could tell you over and over again that we’d heard it before, but that didn’t stop you. You’d plow right through, undaunted by our groans or rolling eyes.
Uncle Don, I’d give anything to hear one more of your stupid stories.