In some of my earliest memories of him, I remember my uncle Steve as The Guy Who Helped Built My Swingset. Every kid needs a swingset, but I was always especially attached to mine. I don’t think there was a day in the 16 years we lived in that house that I didn’t spend at least a little time out there, rain or shine. It was my favourite playground. When things got a little too crowded inside the house, it was my quiet haven.
Every Sunday, Steve came over after church to eat lunch with me and my mother and my grandparents. Afterwards, I would sometimes ask him to stay and play a game of checkers with me. Sometimes he would, but most often he went on home instead. I was never upset by that; I always knew that Steve, like me, was a shy person who got tired out easily by people. I knew that for him, going him on a Sunday afternoon to his apartment and his cats was a lot like me retreating to the backyard swingset he had built for me.
But even though he was quiet and valued his solitude, Steve’s haven always seemed to have a place for me. Whenever I visited his apartment, he would gladly relinquish his computer for a while, or watch me play with the cats, or go with me down to the swimming pool. Once, we collaborated on making dinner – hamburgers and salad – for ourselves and my mom. I was going to slice little bits of ham for the salad, but there wasn’t a cutting board available, so Steve layered some wax paper on the kitchen counter for me. I had quite a little pile of ham all ready to go in the salad, but when I picked it up to dump it all in, I discovered that the knife had not only sliced through the ham, but also the two layers of wax paper – all the ham quickly ended up on the floor. We stared at each other for a minute, shocked, and then laughed. I think we put tomatoes in the salad instead.
Sometime in middle school, I decided that I wanted to learn French, so I got myself some language-learning software and loaded it onto Steve’s computer. If my command of the language is a little less than fluent today, it’s probably because I spent more time watching Star Wars and playing computer games with Steve than I did actually learning French.
A love of science fiction is something that my uncle and I always shared – he was a very early and lasting influence on my taste in literature and television, and I think he was happy to have someone with whom to share the things he loved. He never made me feel like it was a chore to spend time with me; we could be in the same room, each reading our own separate book, just being quiet together. He took me to the library and to movies in the summer. Once, when I forgot my library card at home and he didn’t have one, Steve signed up to get a library card that very day just so I could check out a book I’d already read three times.
There was one interest that my uncle and I never got the chance to share. I remember him telling me about a British sci-fi show called Doctor Who, but I never sat down to watch it with him. When my mom and I were cleaning out Steve’s apartment after the stroke, I found his VHS tapes full of Doctor Who episodes and decided to watch them – mostly as a way to feel close to him at first, but after a while I developed a genuine liking for the show. Four years ago, a friend of mine, also a fan of the show, hosted a Doctor Who viewing party and get-together at her house – that’s where I met my husband.
There are things I will never know about my uncle, moments we will never share, and questions I will never get to ask. But I do know this: he will never stop adding to my life. It – and I – will always be better because of him. He will never see me finish my PhD, or spend an afternoon doing engineering projects that I will never understand with my husband; he will never hold my children and distract them from their French lessons. But in the things that he taught me, the way that he shaped me, my uncle will be there for all of that and more.