My great uncle, let’s call him Chuckles, died on Nov 23rd this year. If one was to search the internet for a hint of the man, you would be left with the distinct impression that his only achievement in life was marrying my aunt. However, if you dig a little deeper, you do find glimpses of him and they hint at the full and fascinating life he led.
You will find a photo of him as a bombardier during WWII, newspaper articles describing his time as a journalist in Moscow, a picture of the back of his head at a printing show and, in the records of Ancestry, old high school yearbook photos.
To our family, he was my aunt’s husband and, as a child, the closest I had ever been to anyone foreign. I viewed the two of them as exotic – creatures that flew in every couple of years for Christmas with presents for all – much more exciting, in some ways, than Santa Claus (although we still loved Santa). He had some weird quirks, was a little distant … and then I would run off and play with my cousins.
Later when my husband and I visited, and later moved, to New Jersey, we had the opportunity to spend quality time with him and, in my mind, this is when Chuckles came to be more than a two dimensional childhood uncle. I saw him in his own, relaxed space. In the town that he loved I was able to get to know him.
He was a man that I rarely asked for an opinion as he would give it with an honesty I was unprepared for. Which meant that when he tasted my first ever Thanksgiving turkey and said that it was good. Well!!! I couldn’t have been more pleased if I had won MasterChef.
Chuckles had a special affection for my children and enjoyed spending time with them. He and my aunt were substitute grandparents for the kids while we were in NJ … and boy, did they lap it up! A walk in the city would always find us in Central Park, on the carousel, followed by ice-cream. Chuckles was never one to shower the kids with toys however, they both knew who to ask for ice-cream. I never heard him say no and there were always supplies in the fridge when we visited.
He noticed their growth in height and marked it by their ability to navigate the dining table in their apartment. When we first arrived, my daughter could walk straight under (and did). As she grew, she still walked under but had to tilt her head to the side. He was a man of detail who loved observing and would say “boop boop” to them as they toddled around.
My memories of Chuckles are not complete without a mention of his folder of takeaway menus. I don’t know that I have ever been so impressed with anything so mundane. The first time it was pulled out was so that I could “organise” dinner. I expected to be handed a pile of menus as they were found from the “junk” drawer. What I received was a folder with each menu in its own sleeve. He then marked our selections to help inform us for next time. To my mind – simply brilliant. To his – logical. It was inspiring – yet not so inspiring that it changed my habits.
Chuckles was a man who loved to scrapbook. He compiled a collection of every article written on my aunt that chronicles her career. I can not even begin to imagine how many periodicals and newspapers he subscribed to and suspect that it was immense. I remember arriving one day to the news that my aunt’s name had appeared in a crossword (from memory, the New York Times). He was so amused and considered that she had officially “made” it.
During our time in NJ, I would frequently receive newspaper clippings in the mail from Chuckles. They would always be on a topic that he thought I would be interested in. They would arrive in the same style of envelope (Chuck Style?) with beautiful calligraphy denoting that the contents were for me. And there would always be more than one stamp. A letter from Chuckles was like a beautifully wrapped gift.
Each Christmas, we would receive a Chuckles made Christmas card telling us what the New Year would bring. Chuckles printed these himself on his own press and distributed them far and wide. Inside would be a slip of paper succinctly detailing what had occurred in his and my aunt’s year. For those keen to know – 2017 is the Year of the Rooster.
Chuckles was very supportive of my efforts to document my family history. He provided me with style guides, resources, data collections and biographies that he (and others) had written. I once asked him if he had a timeline of his life and his career. Unfortunately no.
This piece I have written is not a timeline, it is not a biography nor is it a full picture. It is one girl’s reflection of a man she had the pleasure of knowing. He was quirky, interesting, and thoughtful. A man who’s company I enjoyed.
He’ll be missed.
Boop Boop xxx