He is my uncle Larry.  One of eleven brothers and sisters on my mother’s side.

A jockey.  A laborer.  A father, son, brother, cousin and uncle.  No doubt a grandfather.  I really don’t know him as well as I would like.

He’s a mild misanthrope.

Broken collar bones, shoulders, arms, knees and fearlessness.  A slight man atop a charging behemoth; both human and beast taught most all of speed and finish line.  Grace thereof a fortunate and beautiful artifact of an archaic contest.  Forty seven miles an hour on a twelve hundred pound engine wearing a vest that would merely call sexuality into question at any other venue.

A man who most certainly loves in his very own way.  You’ll see what I mean.

He and uncle Skid were just here last week.

I call him uncle Skid.  I didn’t make it up.

He hugged me goodbye and said in my ear that he was glad I was here.  I thought he meant to tell me I was doing some good here with my parents.  My father having suffered numerous injuries and illnesses, both taking an enormous toll on he as well as my mother.  I thanked him for saying it and he reassured me I was.  I told both he and Uncle Skid that I loved them and they told me that too.

Before I was five I learned to fear him.  When the phone rang at two a.m. there was no one else it could be but my mother’s little brother.  Uncle Larry.  On his way to some track in California to race.  Maybe some desert town for a quick purse.  Uncle Larry confused me.  I loved him and he was good to me……..not nearly as good to me as uncle Danny was.

All these people are chapters.

I was but a toddler the first time he electrocuted me with the glorified cattle prod he carried at all times.  He reached into his pocket as he asked did I want to see his frog?  He had it on him at all times to shock the shit out of whatever human he may come across I guess.  I remember the hollering of uncles and cousins subjected to it.  He once laid in wait in a San Francisco motel room until his younger brother entered the shower, he dumped ice water on him and shocked him when he fled.  We heard the screams.  We were four or five doors down.  The sun wasn’t even close to ready for the morning.

Yeah, he’s a funny little bastard.

The whole family is just a little off.

He was fond of using a tissue and putting it back in the box.  One day shortly after Christmas my family returned home to discover the tree in the front yard festooned with every bra, pantie and undergarment my mother owned.  My mother’s middle name is Lenore.  He’s called her “Manure” ever since I can remember.

Until I was ten, my feet would churn before they ever hit the ground if he reached for his pocket.  By the time I was twelve or thirteen I was probably big enough to kick his ass.  I woke one morning in Scottsdale Arizona with his dirty socks in my mouth.  He would hide crab or lobster shells or a soiled diaper in your car in August.

Uncle Larry is a bit of a sociopath.  I sense he honestly can’t help it.  It has a lot to do with why I like him.

A few years back he and my uncle Skid showed up and spent time visiting my sister and her family.  As per normal, any member of my mother’s family is always willing to help in any way they can.  All the brothers and brothers-in-law are handy and capable of anything from plumbing, construction, heating & air conditioning to electrical to concrete.  Together they could build a nice house.  They covet a challenge and to the man, all believe they can fix anything.  They are a clever and capable clan.  I don’t recall exactly what my sister needed done but Uncle Skip as everyone else calls him, and Uncle Larry, were more than willing to lend hands.

My nephews ended up with fiberglass insulation in their beds.  Uncle Larry advised them the the next morning that the very best thing was to take a shower just as hot as they could stand.

I’m forty five years old and I lock my bedroom door when uncle Larry is in town.  My niece and nephews now do the same.

For what it’s worth, I did a pretty thorough job of returning all my uncle’s favors at a family reunion some years back  I called an executive order on the fish caught in the creek that day and that’s all I can say for reasons of national security.  He plays with me like he doesn’t know it was me but I know he knows so I just lie my ass off about every aspect of it.

He is one funny little bastard.

I don’t worry too much about uncle Skip when he’s around by himself or with anyone but Larry.

They have a bond.  It’s interesting.  Uncle Skid is basically a sweet metrosexual but he can swing a hammer and dig a hole.  He could maybe be in the Village People but he’d need to buff up quite a bit.  Let me just tell you this about my uncle Skid who’s real name is Ralph, he used to have a handlebar mustache.  He’s a good looking, well groomed accomplished man or guy.  My uncle Skid rocks.

My uncle Larry is one obstreperous, ornery, mischievous sonafabitch and I love him too.  They are Hardings and I need to tell you what that means.  My last name is Douglass, but it is with pride and humility I tell you I’m a Harding too.  In many ways, Uncle Larry is no different than any other Harding.  My mother’s family is enormous, I believe I have over forty cousins.  Almost without exception, any one of these people would do whatever and jump at the chance to drop everything, sacrifice anything, to help anyone they love and care for whether they are family or not.  It is one very loyal tribe.  Just about everyone of them has a sense of humor somewhere between childish and devious.

They do love to laugh.

It is a family who’s love and respect for each other is more than unlikely for it’s size.

The in law uncles understand they are Hardings.  The in law aunts have been a bit more reluctant but they have succumbed or moved on.  It’s a thing.  Like The Borg from Picard era Star Trek.  Assimilation.

The rooster weather vane blew off the folks’ house this winter and my uncle Fred reattached it.  I overheard him on the phone tell someone that “Doug’s cock fell off so I screwed it back on”.  His last name is Phillips but he’s a Harding.  He’s a little bit of a whack job Republican.  Lives in the sticks and has an elaborate room/vault for the family’s guns.  I hear it’s impressive.  I’ll be the judge.  Uncle Fred is one of my favorites and always has been despite how profoundly different we are.  He and my uncle Bob take inordinate pride in any and all things they find along the road.  Chainsaws, guns, tools……  I miss my uncle Bob.  He likes to laugh.  A tall gangly mouth breather with a mysterious but warm sense of humor who had some kind of fortune to fall in love with my aunt Shirley.

Poor bastard.  You want everybody to be aware of something, tell my aunt Shirley.  For better and for worse, she is the Harding Hotline.  She sees it as a public service.  I adore her.  She loves hard.  If she loves you she loves you.

Cousin Scotty, who has nothing to do with any of this, once stabbed his licorice ice cream cone onto the enormous butt of a woman wearing white stretch pants walking by in a shopping mall. He looked at me and giggled.  He was missing his two front teeth.

They are all chapters.  It’s a close family.

Larry is an odd little man with big ass ears.  The ears and a sizable gap between the two front teeth, “The Harding Split”, are a genetic family marker.  Many in the family have since erased the tooth gap via modern orthodontics.  Mother lost hers in a car accident at eighteen so she’s long since been repaired.  Larry has the ears but must have had his grill restored.  I’m grateful to say I inherited neither.

He speaks in a somewhat nasally but gravelly twang.  His tone is smartass.  His hair has nearly disappeared on top and his build is particularly slight from the endless chemo and radiation treatments.

I remember him as an athlete.  A good one.  A smart one.  A man who knew what he was doing.  Always a little unpredictable.  Way too much piss and vinegar.  He smirked all the time.  He has always had smarts in his eyes.

About two and a half years ago he was suffering from chronic abdominal pain.  Initial doctor visits turned up nothing.  Eventually he ended up in an ER where it was discovered his body was riddled with stage four cancer that had spread from his colon.  My eyes leaked tears when my mother gave me the news on the phone.  By then, the percentage of him that had been consumed by sheer blackness was near overwhelming.  Prognosis grim.  My mind that night.  A protracted war with an all but inevitable surrender.  The news took my wind and kicked my legs from beneath me.

I wanted to know him better.

So he fought.  He battled.  He waged war by never letting his spirit or will be compromised in any way.  Any manner of subjugation to this potential death that certainly loomed over every waking second and doubtless inked his slumber in all manner of hopeless and desperate ways, was never allowed the light of his days in any way for anyone to see.  When he was all of 90lbs, gums bleeding and wearing a colostomy bag, he smiled and carried on with life.  There was no denial or self delusion, but rather a simple and resolute conviction that he would kick and punch until the contest came to an end.

He was and is a tough as nails and a perpetually optimistic clown of all trades.  He beat it.  I’m convinced it was sheer force of will.  Speaking only for myself, I was sure he was a goner.  I knew he’d bloody the nose and lip of blackness but I didn’t estimate him to have nearly enough fortitude or resolve to knock it down because nobody does with any such brand of so insidious and pervasive a malaise.

But, as an agnostic, I’m tempted to thank God that he did.  I am grateful.  Despite everything I’ve recounted, he is both hysterically funny and what my mother describes simply as a “love”.  He loves sincerely.  He would do and has done anything for those he loves.  He is a Harding.   He would sabotage you in a heartbeat while on your feet but he would carry you to bed if you were down.

If you share blood or friendship with a Harding or an in-law thereof, count your blessings.

Not too many months ago, he began to experience pain in his back.  He went to a chiropractor, to no avail.  Long story short, spots of cancer were discovered on his spine.  Radiation treatments, half a regimen of a dozen chemo treatments and he shows up here to meet uncle Skip for a visit with us.  He looks pretty good but a little like Gollum and I tell him as much.  This time he’s losing his hair.  I think I hope he was enough in the wind to not remember I said that or at least not have heard me.  Maybe I don’t care all that much given the Geneva Conventions on torture he violated with me as a child.

Some few days before they arrive, mother and I sit and watch two sections of backyard fence capitulate to a windstorm while having cigarettes and gin on the back patio.  Dad has a bum wing so mom calls uncle Skip and advises him to bring work clothes and call uncle Larry to do the same.  Easter Sunday I find myself with my two uncles attempting to repair the fence.  We get it done and it’s hell for stout.  The truth and cliche’ of all good stories is that it was the journey.

I’ve been pretty busy the last thirty years.  Careers and fiancee’s and new houses and the like.  Never had enough time for my parents much less my extended family.  The last year has borne witness to a pretty spectacular face plant on my part.  You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you can get what you need.  The silver lining to my very dark cloud has manifested itself in many many ways.  I had more fun in the wind and weather repairing that fence with my two uncles than I’ve had in recent or ancient memory doing anything.  The banter and teasing back and forth was profoundly ridiculous.  Crude.  Adolescent.  It was mean and vulgar and completely lacking in respect, decorum or discretion.  When uncle was unable to find a hole for a bolt or nail he was chastised for being unable to for a lack of hair around it.  We made fun of my old man in absentia for having only one eye.  If he sighted down the fence from his disadvantaged angle, he’d never detect the bow we ended up with.   When we were close to done, uncle Skid leaped on me.  Uncle Skid is a kid.  It’s why he’s so shiny.

There was a point where I noticed for the first time my uncle Larry’s hands.  He’d been wearing gloves but took them off for whatever reason.  They were very old hands.  Much older than the body they belonged to.  I was shocked and did a mental double take.  The sight hit me hard.  My tailbone ached and I needed to evacuate.  His battle with the blackness and subsequent treatment had rendered them nearly translucent.  Mother says she noticed it before, the last cancer, and it’s not permanent.  I could see every vein and half imagined the bones beneath.  I was reminded of his father’s hands.  My grandfather’s hands, before he died after some ninety five years.

Cancer fucking cancer.

We came in from the cold and had beers to continue mocking and teasing.

I will tell you that although he has more treatments scheduled, he is once again cancer free and officially in remission.  Whenever I think of this fact, my heart feels about to burst like a berry pie dropped from some guest window.

What goes up must come down (cowbell enters)
Spinning wheel got to go ’round (full drum kit enters)
Talking ’bout your troubles it’s a crying sin
Ride a painted pony let the Spinning wheel spin

Drinks for my friends.

One Response to “Hans”

  • Teresa:

    I love your writings Michael, it’s the human side I enjoy seeing so much of. Thanks for sending this to me, truly inspiring, especially when you speak of your father and his one eye, as you know, my youngest daughter that you share a birthday with, probably will never regain her eyesight in her left eye, but there’s always hope, especially when I’ve been witnessed to the spirit of your father and how he’s never let it rule his life. I wish Mariah knew your father, I’m sure he’d be an inspiration to her, as he’s always been to you.

    As for your uncles, it makes sense…your very existence that made everyone at Wienerville so enjoyable!

    Thanks for sharing Michael, have an amazing day!

    Love, T.

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