Friday, September 23, 2011

I Found Uncle Charlie

Rarely was his name mentioned at family gatherings and when it was, it was usually followed by a facial expression reassembling a cross between sucking sour lemons and a whiff of a very nasty spell. Charlie was not any one's favorite uncle.

I hardly remember the old goat but I do remember he was not much of a "people person", especially "little" people, as in kids-- and growing up in our family-- there were lots of kids.

I remember Uncle Charlie as the guy at the end of our long dining room table at Thanksgiving that refused to talk when each was asked what he was thankful for. He was also the first to leave the table--heading straight to the kitchen, packing himself a doggie bag of leftovers with the green Tupperware he'd brought with him, then kissing my mom on the cheek and grumbling something as he left the house.

Uncle Charlie was from Mom's side of the family and she never considered not inviting him to our gatherings. She's a "there's-always-room-for-one-more-at-the-table" kind of person and her table included the uncle that I was never quite sure whether or not he was actually a blood relative.

And then one day he was gone. Dead. And in my 11 year old brain, that was the end of him.

Uncle Charlie didn't have any kids of his own and I vaguely remember Mom "handling things" when he passed away but I don't remember the details or a funeral for that matter.

Since Charlie's passing more than 40 years ago, Mom has lived in our family home, a down-sized home, and the home she shared with my late lovely step-father, Dave.

We are now in the process of moving Mom to a Senior Community and that involves hauling out years and years of "stuff" that fills a full basement, a two-car garage, a shed and their four bedroom house. There. Is. A. LOT. Of. Stuff!

Over the past few months, Mom has repeatedly told all five of her kids as well as Dave's five kids to "Take whatever you want-- Please!" She's moving to a two bedroom house and is more than ready to unload a massive accumulation of possessions.

Just before their doozie of a yard sale last month, Mom assigned me the glamorous task of cleaning out the garage-- I'm not sure if that was paybacks for my teenage years or if I just drew the short straw, but tackling the garage-- spiders and all, was a job I took very seriously.

Mom and Dave lived in this house for 20 years-- I can prove that too with the "saved" newspapers from 1991 that were stacked next to the full case of WD-40 oil, because you never know when you might have that many squeaky things that need oiled and repaired.

The garages were jammed pack with a meaningful collection of *ahem*crap*junk*useless*stuff* mementos like three artificial Christmas trees including one that's silver with the four-color rotating light to help set a festive mood. Not to be out done, there were also countless folding lawn chairs, an enormous quantity of nuts, bolts and power tools, two lawn mowers, several snow shovels, nine cases of canning jars, dusty wreaths for every imaginable holiday, tons of mouse poop and one odd shaped cardboard box with a tin inside it.

The outside of the box read, in faded black Magic Marker, "Uncle Charlie".

Apparently, Charlie, or rather his ashes, were on Mom's "to-do" list to take care of for quite a while and then, as life sometimes happens when you're raising five young children, got put on the back burner for another day....

Today was that day. I found Uncle Charlie. In the garage. His Tupperware was nowhere in sight.

With no disrespected intended, I understand this is a delicate situation and I don't want to offend anyone or be rude to the deceased, but what in the world was I supposed to do with Uncle Charlie?

I unfolded one of those 1960s lawn chairs and sat behind the garage, out of Mom's and the countless spiders' sight, to contemplate my next step. The last thing I wanted to do was upset Mom and I was pretty sure finding Uncle Charlie in the garage would not make her day.

I came up with nothing.

So I called Big Sister and explained the situation. Nothing. Baby Sister wasn't much help either. It was Middle Sister who had her wits about her-- Translation-- She was the only one able to stop laughing long enough to tell me to fess up and go directly me to Mom, who in turn directed me to her minister, who then arranged a date to say a few prayers and scatter Uncle Charlie's ashes in the woods behind the chapel.

At the conclusion of the 23rd Psalm, I thought for a moment about my youthful impressions of Uncle Charlie and if maybe being a bratty kid jaded my impressions of Mom's relative. She always had something nice to say about Charlie and commented many times that he'd given her the rocking chair she'd rocked her babies in.

When we returned home from the chapel, I had a sudden need to rearrange Mom's bottomless and very disorganized Tupperware cabinet. No Uncle Charlie's light green Tupperware wasn't in there but I'm pretty sure I found a little compassion for our uncle as I sorted through the mismatched pieces.

When I was finished I was glad Uncle Charlie was finally laid to rest and very glad I had found him before the garage sale.

Welcome to www.TheFiftyFactor.com - Joanna Jenkins

45 comments:

Cloudia said...

you handled that with grace!


Aloha from Waikiki;

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Cinner said...

Joanna, glad all is taken care of. I am glad you found him before the garage sale too. I can just picture my sisters if something like that happened, they would have acted the same as yours...I will never think of tupperware the same way again. hope the move with your Mom goes okay. hugs to you.

Formerly known as Frau said...

Omg....I want to laugh because I'm wondering how long he has been out there....but I know this is a sensitive subject.....I have four sisters so I can only imagine your different conversations with your sisters!! Handled with grace as someone said above!
Have a wonderful weekend!

Nezzy said...

You handled Uncle Charlie well and I too am happy ya found him before the sale.

Can ya imagine emptyin' the big old farm house that's collected stuff for over 66-67 years! It's been more than a job after MIL moved to assisted livin' with only one tiny bedroom? 'Found loads of treasures and the only ashes we found was from an old wood cook stove hidden deep under the stairs.

God bless ya girl, have a gorgeous day! :o)

Eva Gallant said...

That was a precious post! Funny and sentimental all at once.

Christine said...

All's well that ends well! Nice post.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

I'm so glad that, thanks to you, Uncle Charlie finally got an official memorial service and scattering. I loved this post. I can so relate to it: after my parents' deaths, my husband and I, later joined by my brother after he finished medical school, had the overwhelming task of cleaning out their home of 35 years. They were packrats and the stuff we hauled out of that 800 square foot house plus garage plus workshop was staggering. There were some treasures and sentimental finds in the process but so much was just junk. It really made us think twice about accumulating stuff in our own home!

Erika Lee @ A Tiny Rocket said...

my parents are going through something similar- but they are downsizing from their house to a small condo. my mom told me the same thing- to take whatever me and my sisters wanted. It's sort of sad going through memories and deciding what to keep and what to throw away.

I think you did the right thing with Uncle Charlie- I know I am a little bit of a introvert at family functions.. just because of the amount of people. :)

lisleman said...

Great story. It reminded me of cleaning out our mom's place after she passed on. The 4 adult kids and some spouses worked at it for months. No dead uncles but unknown to me, we discovered our mom liked to stash money in the oddest places.

If you can you should have your mom tell you more about Uncle Charlie.

Mari said...

What a thing to find! You handled the situation well!

Just Stuff From a Boomer said...

I had to chuckle at you finding Uncle Charlie. You know she meant to take care of him and he just got moved to the back burner in life. I'm sure she meant no disrespect and I mean none with the chuckle, but, I can so see that happening.

Ina in Alaska said...

Aww.. Sweet tale. It would be fun to learn Uncle Charlie's story from your mom-- then share it with us!!

I myself do not find young children fun to be around- I rarely spend any time around them- probably Uncle Charlie felt the same, no disrespect intended.

oceangirl said...

There could not be a bad Uncle Charlie, just not possible.

Lilly said...

Oh my, what a find. I have so much to catch up on your blog it seems. However, I can identify with everything youa re going through as have been in the same place (minus discovering Uncle Charlies remains of course) in the past year. Big changes all around and unsettling for everyone. But it is great doing this with your sisters and there are lots of laughs and memories and 'discoveries'. And her was I thinking I was doing well to find a 1730 coin in the garage when I cleaned my parents one out...off to catch up on lots of posts now, missed you.

ladyfi said...

A very moving story... I love the way you found some kindness and a new way of looking at Uncle Charlie after all these years.

Alison said...

Lovely wee story!

Chocolate Covered Daydreams said...

And to think Uncle Charlie was in the garage this whole time??? At least he was given a good send off.

Your mom has a color wheel??? My sister and I have been scouring yard sales for a color wheel that we used to have under our tree when we were kids growing up...aluminum tree and all!

I'm sure it's tough to go through so much accumulated stuff but i bet your mom appreciates it.

Eddie Bluelights said...

I think Uncle Charlie would have approved and it is good that you found him in the garage. You are very kind.

Webster said...

Great story well told. I think it was good that you were honest with your Mom and had a proper send-off for dear old Uncle Charlie. But it does make me wonder: What would he have been worth at the garage sale?

SueAnn said...

I thought for sure you were going to tell me that you found him in that green tupperware container! Ha!
Well done
Hugs
SueAnn

PⒿ @ $ € € ₦$ ₣®0₥... said...

Wow, JJ! THAT'S a tale for future generations. If there's a written genealogy for your family, this should be added to it.

Amazing discoveries...isn't that a show on cable? Wouldn't this qualify??!!

Midwest to Midlands said...

That was a great post, really good. I could definitely relate to the clearing out of the contents from the past. And a meaningful ceremony for Uncle Charlie too.

Shrinky said...

Oh my, thank heavens Uncle Charie wasn't sold off in the yard sale.. i mean someone might have taken a fancy to the container.. imagine their surprise upon opening it at home (sorry, I'm not REALLY laughing)..!

Sightings said...

Doesn't everyone have an "Uncle Charlie" in the family -- we had Uncle Pauly, the odd man out, the guy who never quite got his life together, the one who never quite fit in, never enjoyed the approval of the rest of the family. Too bad, b/c those people are just not "understood." We should all reach out and have more empathy.

Your story had plenty of empathy. You did your Uncle Charlie proud.

TechnoBabe said...

Did you find out if Uncle Charlie was a blood relative? This is a strange tale. Your mom must have tons of stuff in the garage. Tons.

DJan said...

I remember once when I helped my mom move to a house in the country. My dad's ashes, along with my Uncle Jack's, were in the truck of the car, and Mom told me, with a smile, to go get Daddy and Uncle Jack and bring them in the house. Those ashes can be problematic, this was a very good resolution to them, and you did it all! Not to mention writing a very good post about it. Thank you.

Ann Imig said...

This goes on the "ethical dilemmas you could never imagine until you have to pack up 20 years of crap in someone's garage" list.

Cindy La Ferle said...

What a delightful story, JJ! I love the way you tell a story, and love the compassion you have for your whole family. Uncle Charlie is smiling down on you!

mary said...

I really enjoyed this post! Thank you!

Jeanie said...

You've given Uncle Charlie a very fine final goodbye. Thanks for sharing him with us.

Cathy Clementz said...

OH, I can almost laugh out loud at this one! It sounds like a sit com!! Sorry, but it does!! What a good daughter you are (and I'm sure the sisters are too!).

Ms Sparrow said...

Have you ever found out what Uncle Charlie's story was? It sounds like he was always "odd man out". Long after my mom died, I found out from a cousin that Mom had a bachelor uncle called Crazy Joe. He resided in a State Hospital but always came to help with the threshing at harvest time. I've never even seen a picture of Joe and I wish my mom had told me about him.

Joyce said...

I believe things don't just happen. I'm glad Uncle Charlie was found. I also bet there was a tenderness about him, but he was too afraid to show it. I hope you can find out more about him and share.

BTW I hope you sold that silver tree for a good penny. I believe last year they were a commodity. xo

Taradharma said...

You did right by Uncle Charlie. Good on ya.

And you've reminded me that a certain someone I know still has her mother's ashes (from 15 years ago) in a storage shed.....time to do something about THAT.

Mike Smith said...

As the others have said, you did the right thing JJ. Great post as always.

Shug said...

Oh my...I don't mean to be disrespectful, but I am really still laughing...don't we all have those uncle charlies?
I am thankful that he wasn't sold at the garage sale, and I'm thankful that he was finally laid to rest. So glad I stopped by and read this post...
Blessings,
shug

ceodraiocht said...

Oh Joanna - if it were a sitcom folks would think 'things like that never happen'. Lighthearted approach to a difficult time. Great post.

Pearl said...

What IS the protocol for finding someone's ashes?! So many things are an unknown until faced...

Pearl

Zuzana said...

What a very interesting story, making me feel a bit sad for your uncle. To be forgotten when alive is terrible, but it must be as sad to be forgotten in death...
So glad you found him, I am sure he is smiling at you, wherever he might be.;)
xoxo

blueviolet said...

I'm pretty sure I would have been one who busted out in laughter over the fact too. I can't believe he was left in the garage all those years!

Hilary said...

Funny story.. so great in the telling. I suspect that Uncle Charlie might have grumbled a bit no matter what was decided. But you set him free. He can't have a bug up his ash about that. ;)

julochka said...

this made me laugh so hard...at least he wasn't IN the tupperware! :-) actually, i'll bet uncle charlie didn't mind being in that lively garage all those years...it was probably right where he belonged.

Izzy said...

Such a classic Joanna story... =)

diane said...

Kinda gives "my uncle stays in my mom's garage" a whole new meaning. I'm actually misting up over here, that is one h*ll of a story.

DavidShag said...

As a childless single uncle myself, and one who is not all that great with kids under the age of - oh, say - 16, I'd like to say that I read this with particular interest. I had an aunt who was tough on kids and later in life we became very good friends. I used to tell her she was an acquired taste. I think the fact that your Mom had good things to say - and my goodness, he gave her a rocker! - probably is significant. Some people are wonderful friends for grown-ups; I bet you'd have liked Charlie better later in life. As a child, I thought I was an endlessly fascinating subject for all adults, and as an adult, I realize that such could not have been the case. Bless all those relatives (I had 12 blood aunts and 4 blood uncles) who did not disabuse me of my misconception in any lastingly damaging way. I love that Charlie wouldn't chip into the 'what he was thankful for' routine. I find many 'sweetness and light and all's for the best' commentary to be like nails on a chalkboard - such thoughts are worse than useless when one really has a crisis, yet that is so often all that one gets (see the excellent new film "50/50" for a great take one this). But, alas, I rarely have Uncle Charlie's guts to refuse to partake.