That was his name, just "Uncle Bert." I never did learn his last name, not in all those years on Martha's Vineyard.
He and his dear wife - "Auntie" - owned the cottage next to ours, on Martha's Vineyard. Uncle Bert and Auntie had a cute little shoebox of a place, not even wide enough for two rooms side-by-side! It was always warm and cozy.
Their one disagreement, in life, had been over its name. You see, every cottage in the Campgrounds had a name. Ours was "The Cricket." My best friend Dailis lived in "Cool Corner," right across the street from "AzULikIt" and down the street from "Tall Timbers" - tallest place around. Anyway, Bert had wanted to name it "Happy Daze" and she wanted "Happy Days." In an act of perfect compromise - oh, what a word, we should all take a lesson from them; they named it both and alternated. One summer it was his version, the next, hers.
Growing up, he was always there, on his porch, in his rocking chair, reading. He was the absolute stereotype old-fashion good neighbor. A jovial fellow, his eyes always twinkled through his wire-rimmed glasses.
When our moms were off shopping, he was there to watch us kids. When it rained and we didn't want to be stuck inside, his porch was where we congregated. He'd regale us with one of his stories.
"Oh, back in the winter of '38, it was so cold; my breath froze to my face!"
When I fell and broke my wrist, I ran home crying. Uncle Bert was out of his rocker and at my side before my Mom. He even offered to drive us to the hospital.
Yeah, he was a very good neighbor.
And Auntie was always ready with a homemade oatmeal raisin cookie. Just one mind you, so as not to spoil out appetites. Looking back, I realize Uncle Bert couldn't exist today. He watched us kids, let us in his house, tickled us and playfully smacked our behinds. Today, he'd be a registered sex offender!
What a pity.
Years later, Dad and I ran into "Uncle" Bert down at the harbor. The years had been kind. Yeah, his hair was a bit grayer and a few more thin lines ringed his mouth and eyes, but those eyes hadn't lost their twinkle. He was so happy, he and Auntie had finally moved to the Island permanently. But, his health was failing: bad heart. Yet, it didn't slow him down or dampen his spirits one bit!
As he put it,"I take one nitro' pill to get me downtown, and one more to make it home."
Yeah, he was definitely a "glass half full" kind of guy.
Later that summer, "Uncle" Bert passed away quietly in his sleep, in his bed, in his cottage, on the island he loved best. I still think of him. When it rains, I hear his voice. When I eat an oatmeal raisin cookie, I smell Auntie's kitchen. And, when I pass his cottage, I could almost swear I still see his chair rock.
I wish I could be some children's "Uncle Bert"; but, like I said, we live in different times. The phrase, "back in the good old days," is often over-used. In this case however, it is most appropriate. He was clearly a very good man. After all this time, I still think of him.
Click here for more by AJ Robinson.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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