Family is a funny thing. As a kid, I grew up with background noise I didn’t question or even pay much attention to. As I am fond of saying, we inherit a story not our own. We enter in the middle. The first thing I remember about my Uncle Art, my dad’s eldest brother, was that my parents referred to him as “Plug” or, to me, as “Uncle Plug”. Years later, when I asked why, my mother said that he’d acquired the nickname because someone said he ran like a plug mule.
This is a shot of my Uncle Art’s B-24 crew. Late 1940s, I’m thinking. That’s him, second from the left in the back row. I remember visiting him and his wife 30 years or so ago, my oldest boy a baby in my lap at the time. We sat around talking and looking at the dozens of photos he’d snapped during his tour. There were a lot he’d taken on missions. I poured over the shots of broken aircraft falling from the sky, on fire, surrounded by explosions and listened to him tell chatty stories of the boys in the crews and the antics they’d gotten up to in London on leave. I am of an age to only vaguely remember Vietnam; World War II was the stuff of movies and maybe History Channel documentaries. There had been very little direct contact with death in my life at that point. I remember asking my uncle about the fate of the crews in those broken planes.
“Did anybody make it out?”
He grew quiet and said no. I remember feeling stupid momentarily. Well, of course no one made it out, not of a plane shot in half falling out of the sky in flames. This isn’t a movie, Karen.
My uncle was the first person I remember talking to who had been in the war. He was my first living contact with that period. It was a profound realization and the experience, the conversation, has stayed with me.
There were long periods of time when I didn’t have contact with my Uncle, or most of my extended family. But there were periods after my divorce when he and I corresponded via email and phone. He was a character…and I loved him.
It’s a long story but I just found out today that he’d died earlier this year. I had a feeling…but it’s still hard knowing for sure. There are, I must admit, some who have passed that I miss more than others. He’s one.
RIP, Uncle Art.
(© Karen Opp. All rights reserved.)