Uncle Duane. Uncle Way-wee. Because kids had a hard time with "Duane." He was also the guy who used to pull out a pocket knife and carve off a chunk of Longhorn Colby Cheese. Cheeb. Because Uncle Way-wee wouldn't give us "cheese." He was the first pipe smoker I knew. He and a great portion of his house smelled of pipe tobacco that came from a pouch in the living room, next to his easy chair. The pipe smoking, we were told, was a reminder of his years in the Navy. As were the tattoos that covered both of his forearms. Living in landlocked Colorado, it never occurred to me how far he was from the ocean and those days gone by.
He was my father's sister's husband. Aunt Peggy worked at the grocery store, and raised my older cousins Sharon and Cathy, and kept Way-wee in pipe tobacco and cheeb. What did he do for a living? I don't recall that, aside from his years as a sailor that there was much employment in Duane's life. Mostly he sat on the front porch, carving off slices of cheeb.
I know that my father kept his side of the family at arm's length. His brother-in-law may have played a part in that choice. I remember one particular summer afternoon at our cabin in the mountains, where a family reunion got more than a little tense after Duane had a few extra beers. He grew very bitter and accused my father of never sharing what he had. This came as some puzzling news for my father, who had invited Way-wee to his home away from home and bought most of the beer that was consumed. By my uncle. The same guy who stood at the bottom of the stairs, slurring curses at my father. The same guy who sat on the front steps of his own house, spinning tales of his years at sea and whittling on that block of cheeb.
We saw less and less of Way-wee as we grew older. That summer day took most of the patience my father had left with his brother-in-law. It was easier to get along with my mother's side of the family. In his twilight years, Duane was most visible as a local character. He was "that guy on a bike," riding around the streets of Boulder, always with seemingly someplace to go. Seemingly. Mostly he was pedaling about, sure that someone was after him, as his paranoid delusions got the best of him.
I still think of my uncle when I ask my son if he wants some cheeb. He looks at me with the same curious look that I once gave Way-wee. And when I get on my bike, I make sure I have a place to go.