Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Uncle Rick

(Uncle Rick, in the middle of two of his daughters, Francine and Lauren)

On Friday, I will turn 61. However, I did not come here to tell you that. My uncle, Rick Drown, turned 81 today.

I am dumbfounded when I think of that number. Whenever I see him, I can never think of him as almost exactly 20 years older than me - and he doesn’t even look that old. I mean, his age makes sense, as he’s my Mom’s younger brother and she’s a few years north of 80 herself, but she doesn’t look her age, either. Everybody on that side of the family, with a large helping of my grandmother’s Barcello blood, looks great and lives forever.

(If I’ve inherited those genes, I could be here for another 45 or 50 years, so I'll probably get my money's worth out of Social Security, if that's still around by the time I'm eligible to collect it. If I have more of the Sullivan genes, though, I might check out in the middle of the next sentence, so if this piece suddenly trails off for no discernible reason...)

At the rate I'm aging, he’ll look younger than me in about five years - if I’m still around.

A more-or-less recent photo

Uncle Rick is an interesting guy. He’s worked as a private detective. He used to be a commercial airline pilot. In his spare time, he’s a marvelous woodworker and carpenter - good enough to make his living that way, too, which he did for quite a while. He’s easy-going and quiet, but he has an affable sarcasm going for him, too. I like him a lot.

The youngest of three children, he was born on February 27th of 1937, in Weymouth, Massachusetts. He still lives there, in a house he grew up in. He takes care of the house and all that, since he's so handy with tools. He has re-built the garage, constructing an entirely new roof, replacing the doors, and... well, considering how much of the old structure is left, let’s just say he built a garage. He also added an attached tool shed to the house. He did these things from scratch, by himself – no outside help whatsoever - one man with a hammer and a saw.

(Stuff like that amazes me. The best thing I ever made with my hands is a clay turtle I fashioned in the second grade. I’ve still got it. It still looks like a turtle to me, but not to anyone else. My Uncle Rick makes actual buildings that you could live in, in his spare time. You could give me fifteen years and I couldn’t make a freakin’ birdhouse. As a matter of fact, MY WIFE could attest to that very fact. She gave me a kit for one, plans included, back in the early 90’s. I never did finish it, and many birds are still thankful for that.)

(Uncle Rick, My Grandma, My Mom - From the styles, I'd say late 1970's)

Rick lived with and took care of his mother until she passed (those Drowns...) at age 105 in 2011. When I say Rick lived with his mother, I don't want to give you the wrong impression. He’s been married, four children (one deceased) and he has grandchildren and great-grandchildren, so he didn't lived with his mom his whole life. As a matter of fact, he left home quite early.

He joined the army at 17. He was stationed in Germany and he loved being there. To this day, he has a great fondness for just about any movie about the army - especially those concerning World War Two – and he’s quite the amateur historian concerning that conflict.

When he got out of the army, at age 21, that’s when he became an excellent carpenter. Not satisfied with being great at one thing, he decided to learn how to fly. He became a pilot, a captain for Air New England, a regional commercial carrier based on Nantucket. He did that for quite a while and then, just so he could have something else EXTREMELY INTERESTING to talk about, he became an actual honest-to-goodness private investigator, which he has done for over 20 years, I think (and maybe he still does it now, but I just don't know about it because he's keeping it a secret which is what private eyes are good at.)

Oh, did I mention that he taught himself how to speak both Spanish and German? And that he’s a ham radio operator, with many contacts spanning the globe? And, while he had a few spare moments, he traced one side of our family tree back to colonial times and the other back to Spain?

(I said earlier that I like him a lot, but the man sets the bar damned high for the rest of us rapscallions and scullery maids. I might have to re-think my position if he takes up anything else.)

(Speaking of his genealogy work, that side of my family has some interesting bloodlines – Spanish, French and Yankee. One of our ancestors was Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. Another was the fellow who crafted the grasshopper weathervane that sits atop Fanieul Hall in Boston to this day...

... whose name was was Shem Drowne. As regards longevity, Shem lived to be 90 and life expectancy back then was about 45. Somewhere along the way to us, the “e” was dropped from the end of the family name. Knowing my fondness for The Three Stooges, MY WIFE says that there must have been a “p” dropped from that fellow’s first name, but that’s purely conjecture on her part.)

(With Grandchildren Camille & Casey a few years back)

With all that I’ve said concerning my uncle’s endeavors, it should come as no surprise that he likes to play games that challenge the mind – puzzles and the like – and he’s damned good at them. If you want to see the mental equivalent of a pitbull, just give my Uncle Rick a riddle to solve. He won’t set it aside until he’s figured it out.
I have a special fondness for another small hobby of his – magic. The first magic trick I remember being amazed at, and determined to learn, was often done by him to amuse me as a small child. What he did was to take a heavy object, say a can of vegetables, and make it appear to go through a table, leaving no indication behind of where it might have gone through. He’d take the can, along with a sheet of newspaper, and wrap the can in the newspaper. Once he had done so, BAM! He’d slam his fist down on the newspaper-wrapped can on the table. The newspaper was flattened, the can had hit the floor, and there was no hole in the table.

(I could tell you how that trick is done, because my Uncle Rick is always willing to explain a trick – after he’s first amazed you with it a few hundred times. He wants to give you a chance to figure it out for yourself because that’s what he enjoys doing – figuring things out – and he’d like you to have the same pleasure. Once you say you’ve had enough, he’ll take great delight in explaining the technique.)

So, he’s a pretty smart guy and a nice fellow. However, in the best journalistic tradition of the modern age, it's time for me to tear him down now that I've built him up. A couple of stories from his childhood should do the trick.

(Grandpa Francis Drown, with my Mom (Connie), Uncle Rick and my Aunt Jeanne)

When Rick was about nine, his family moved to a new house in Weymouth. On the very first day in the new house, he was swinging on a water pipe in the cellar and broke it. My grandmother sent him outside to play while they tried to clean up the mess he had made. No sooner was he outside than he threw a ball and broke one of the windows.
Then there was the time he and my Aunt Jeanne (the oldest of the siblings) had a good little scam going - until they were found out. There had been a huge snowstorm and there were drifts a few feet high. They had neighborhood kids come into the house and they were charging them a nickel apiece for the pleasure of jumping out of the second-story bedroom window into the snow below.

(As legend has it, my grandmother had a paint stirrer she used to occasionally spank the three kids. I guess in Ricky’s case it was more than an occasional use. My Aunt Jeanne used her woodburning set to write “Ricky’s Paddle” on that paint stirrer. There has never been any indication given that my grandmother objected to this naming of the implement.)

And now, I’ll just plain embarrass him. My Mom tells me that he really, really liked Gene Autry. He would dress in cowboy shirt and hat, etc., and go around singing the following song, which I guess he had heard Gene Autry sing:

Wherever you are dear
On land or on sea
If you really love me
Be honest with me

Well, that sort of thing NEVER looks good on your resume.


I’ve got one last cute story, this one from a more recent date.

The first time Rick met MY WIFE (she was MY FUTURE WIFE at the time) we had had dinner and now we were gathered around a table and playing Monopoly. MY FUTURE WIFE volunteered to be the banker. Rick was sitting directly to her right. After a bit, Rick wasn’t doing too well. His cash reserves were low and he didn’t have any considerable holdings in real estate, either.

After taking a couple of sneaky glances to either side, he tapped MY FUTURE WIFE on the leg and passed her a note under the table. She didn’t know what to make of this. She had just met him, after all. Was he making some sort of a pass at her, right in front of everybody? She read the note, with some trepidation, but then began laughing. It said, “This is a stick up!”

(On Grandma's 100th birthday - Mom, Grandma, Uncle Rick)

I may have forgotten some instance during my childhood, but I can’t recall ever telling my Uncle Rick “I love you” back then. I've rectified that in recent years and this is as good a time as any to do so again. I love you, Uncle Rick. So do a whole bunch of other folks who may not always put it into words. We all do. Just take it for granted.

Happy 81st Birthday, Uncle Rick. Many, many more.


(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

Happy Birthday, Uncle Rick!

Eddie Colbeth said...

Happy of birthdays to you Uncle Rick!

joeh said...

Hell, now even I love Uncle Rick!

messymimi said...

Wishing your Uncle Rick many, many happy returns of the day!

Shammickite said...

Have a Happy Happy Birthday, Uncle Rick!

Anonymous said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY Uncle Rick !! And to you as well on Friday !! Linda in Tn

Ami said...

Having family you love and respect is great. Even better when you let them know it while they're still around instead of waiting until everyone gathers at their funerals.

He sounds like an amazing and wonderful guy.

Absolut Ruiness said...

He comes across as a very wholesome fellow! A very happy birthday to YOUR UNCLE RICK!!! The stick-up line had me in splits.
Well written, as usual, Jim the Awesome.

Jenny Woolf said...

What an amazing guy he sounds. This is a great tribute and I'm glad he's around to read it, too. his whole family sound an interesting lot, that idea of charging kids to jump out of the top floor window is genius, nearly as good as a diabetic kid I knew who used to charge kids to give him his injections.

Craig said...

Happy Birthday to Uncle Rick! I love when you tell these stories, Jim; thanks.

And Happy Birthday to you, my friend! For one day, you and I are the same age (at least in whole-numbered years).