I’m writing this about 24 hours since we heard that Uncle Kim passed away. My heart hurts for our loss and it hurts for our family. We weren’t close, but we were family and that means something beyond close, sometimes it’s closer than close.
It hurts all the more because Aunt Mary died 3 years ago and for me, that means an empty loveseat every year at Christmas. For my cousin and her family, it means a hell of a lot more. (I’m sorry if you think the word is too strong. I don’t. To be honest, I think it’s probably not strong enough.)
I can’t imagine the hurt right now. I can’t imagine looking at the road ahead. I can’t imagine feeling those things, or explaining them to their daughter, my precious “niece.”
They say that one of the timeless strategies for coping with death is to tell stories. The memories, the quotes, the shared experiences will never replace the space once filled by those we’ve lost, but they’re better than the feelings and the emptiness that remains.
With Kim (and Mary), there are stories aplenty, but most aren’t mine to tell. I’ll keep it to a Coca Cola playground, the baking mechanic and Bucky.
Growing up, our families were not close. We were not close geographically, we were not close enough to spend a lot of time together and so we went months on end without seeing cousins. Occasionally, those months numbered over a year. I’d say that my sister and I saw Becky twice a year on average. We loved going to their house near Grand Rapids, Michigan for a number of reasons. They had a pool, first of all. The neighbors had a trampoline. They had a trampoline before everybody put circus nets around them and pads all over the place. You took your life into your own hands on that thing and it was awesome. To a child’s eyes, they had a big, full house with big and full hearts. They had a dog named Lady that I adored. But the pièce de résistance was the Coca Cola collection in the basement.
Whatever you’re currently imagining, multiply it by a factor of a hundred. There were thousands of collectible Coca Cola memorabilia. The wall clocks and bottles from dozens of foreign countries, posters in foreign languages and plastic signs all over the walls would grab your attention first. Then there were the Coca Cola table lamps on Coca Cola side tables with Coca Cola coasters. The only rule was “Don’t Touch.” And I followed it, mostly. Ok, rarely…
I looked at everything that I could pick up in that collection. I examined any piece that I could lift. I tried to teach myself foreign languages simply by comparing labels. We’d hide among the larger pieces and I’m convinced that collection is why I’ve always been a Coke fan. I don’t know how the collection started or how big it ever got, but I do know that I stood in that basement at least once a year in absolute awe of the entire thing. It was amazing.
I have no idea what Uncle Kim did for a living. I think he worked in different factories around town and had a few different jobs. I do know what he loved to do, though. He loved working on cars and could fix anything with wheels. And he loved baking. He may have been the original Cake Boss. Every family gathering guaranteed talk about horsepower and butter cream… separately, of course.
Their house was not only full of Coca Cola stuff, but the smells of desserts galore. I tasted heaven in that yellow house with the big back yard. The garage was next to the yard, detached from the house. But the kitchen was closest to the tired screen door that led to the driveway and garage. His two favorite places were mere steps from each other and he brought about miracles in motor oil and vegetable oil.
I will absolutely miss Kim and Mary the most this Christmas, but in a close second/third will be their desserts and the look he gave me every time he asked me about “that Toyota” I drive.
Bucky was a 1985 Dodge Omni. Two-tone. Red and silver. And it was freakin’ awesome. This was my first car and Uncle Kim found it for me as I was finishing up my senior year of high school in the Bahamas. (Another story for another time…) I handed him $800 cash and he handed me a single, silver key. It was meant to be. That car lasted me four years and cost me insurance (sometimes… please don’t tell), a new battery, front brakes and an alternator.
Somehow, I got all my stuff for college into that car in a single trip. It made the drive from Kankakee, Illinois to Holland, Michigan so many times, I think it could do it on its own. One night, we fit ten people in that car to go play basketball in the Salvation Army gym. There was a Sunday afternoon that I was headed out of town. I’d gone to church that morning but couldn’t get the car started after church. Lieutenant Dave and I did the only thing we could think of… we laid hands on that car and prayed. Bucky liked the attention and fired right up. I don’t know why we named it Bucky, but I want to give my sister credit for that.
After four years of college, I was headed to North Dakota to do theater and California for film school and I knew that Bucky wouldn’t make it. I parked it at my parents house and they may have even lined up a buyer for it. But Bucky was done. As far as I know, that car never started again. The car that Uncle Kim got me for to last through college did exactly that.
Those are a few of my Uncle Kim stories. I’m gonna miss him as I’ve already missed his dear bride. (Since you’re reading this, Aunt Mary, we still use the rice cooker on a weekly basis. I think of you every time… but since you’re reading this, you know that, too.) There’s a certain stoic faithfulness to Kim that will be deeply missed. That growl in his voice and how he would say “uh-huh” in agreement without moving a muscle on his face or even opening his mouth. The utter deliciousness of anything he brought to the party. The clever and hilarious comments that you’d only hear if you were within two feet of his under-his-breath delivery. These will be missed.
You will be missed, Uncle Kim. You already are.