Uncle Fred

Uncle Fred 2007

Uncle Fred 2007

When I met Uncle Fred, my Aunt Wincie’s second husband, he was already retired from the Navy. It was around 1972, I was a senior in high school, and he’d been retired for two years already. By the time he died last week, he’d been retired for nearly 40 years. Can you imagine?

I’ve never known anyone to fill his “golden” years with so much. Fred took his sons (from a previous marriage) sailing around the world. He remarried. He joined a men’s choir and a barbershop quartet, which I got to experience for the first time about six months ago. His choir sang at the funeral. He and Wincie traveled. Fred enjoyed a martini almost every day.

In his last few years, Fred wasn’t overly wordy. But he could tell a good story. And he had a great sense of humor.

Fred had a stroke two months ago, and has spent most of those two months in the hospital. He seemed to get better, and then no better. Then worse. The hospital had sent him home, where he wanted to go, and Aunt Wincie set his hospital bed up in the sunroom, all windows, which is surrounded by a beautiful lawn and garden he and Wincie have planted over the years. When asked how he liked it there, Fred said, “It’s OK, if you like green.”

Fred was more than funny. He looked at the bright side. In the morning, he’d read the funny pages first, then the news. He thought it was important to laugh early in the day. Back in the 60s, during the antiwar movement, he said, “You know, the thing about these radicals that I don’t get is they have no sense of humor!”

Fred was so well liked by everyone that my cousin Chris, Fred’s nephew, once agreed to let Fred cut his hair. It was the 70s, and Chris liked it long. He had submitted to his parents’ wishes, and carefully explained to Fred what he wanted him to do. Somehow Fred kept Chris so entertained that Chris didn’t realize until the end that Fred had given him a buzz cut.

Fred owned a nice old boat that came unmoored during a big hurricane a few years ago. It was found in someone’s wooded lot, up on a hill overlooking the creek where it should have been. Fred laughed about it. I knew he’d fix it up, buy it a new motor. He loved that boat.

One of my favorite Fred stories happened soon after Fred and Wincie got married. Aunt Wincie’s son Barry was home from college one day, fixing up his old Rambler. He’d decided to take the battery out and clean it off for some reason, and in the process broke off one of the posts. You just can’t fix that kind of mistake. Barry was despondent. Before he knew it, Fred was driving up with a brand-new battery. It must have been a special moment for these two people, newly bonding as a refashioned father and son.

Fred never had an unkind word for anyone, but always something clever and helpful. He liked to volunteer Saturday mornings at the Yorktown Watermen’s Museum, teaching kids about crabs. He’d let one go on the floor , so that the children would have to raise their feet as it passed under their chairs, to demonstrate how fast crabs move, and how to handle them. That museum is just a few feet away from where his seafood restaurant, The Wharf, lived. He opened the restaurant around 1970, and it was a big hit until it burned in 1977. I know that must have been disappointing, but I know that Uncle Fred just said something like, “Winnie, I think we’re not in the restaurant business anymore.”

I miss Uncle Fred.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Cheryl
    Oct 11, 2009 @ 14:53:39

    I am so sorry to hear about Uncle Fred. Between this piece and your earlier one, I can understand why he meant so much to you.


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