I ran crying to Uncle Jim, who stood by the barn door.
I didn’t want to leave him.
As I hugged him, I tried to hold the moment as long as I could, smelling the
rotting leaves in the nearby forest, the damp October air, and the mustiness of the inside of the barn.
The morning dew was uncomfortable, soaking my toes in my Hightops, but I wanted to hold onto him and his large belly. It was just 8 a.m., but he had a tie on, a clip with a bronze deer holding it in place against his white shirt. He said: “Oh, kid, you and me, kid … you and me.” He smelled sweet — of aftershave and pipe smoke. But the car was waiting, all packed.
My grandparents yelled one more time: “Donny, come on. Now!”
I got in the car and kept my eyes on Uncle Jim, alone by the barn, waving goodbye.
He always held his head to one side, a war injury.
It may have been what caused him to drink but it could also have been depression — living in a place so wild and dark, where the winters were cold, long … and snow was measured in feet.
So far from his family.
I cried for two hours through the Green Mountains, the valleys of orange and yellow trees and granite gravestones, where I imagined that men with stovepipe hats and ladies with hoop skirts lay underneath the green earth, side by side.
Little houses with steeply pitched roofs that kept off the snow in winter went by in a blur.
As we crossed the border into New York, I wondered if Uncle Jim, too, by now surely in his house watching snowy TV, was crying.
Grandma called to tell us Uncle Jim died. That night, I felt him standing beside my bed.
When I think of Uncle Jim, and how he held me, what he said to me in 1963, I still cry.