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Uncle's Story

Uncle and the Kid
Mike Blake

When his nephew was younger, the uncle found it easy to do things with him. It wasn’t difficult to get the kid’s interest up in things, get him excited, and make him laugh. It seemed that the kid was game for just about anything with his favorite uncle. Whatever they did turned out to be fun.

The uncle looked forward to these times with the nephew as much as the kid did; he had watched the kid go from being a baby in his mother’s arms to being an energetic little character with his own personality forming. Yet the best part of it for the uncle was that the youngster’s mind was still open; he could have fun with the kid as you could only have with someone who is three or four years old. A look, a laugh, a hug or caress, some tickling – that was often enough and said more than words ever could. It was amusing to see how open and guileless the kid could be, and touching also. Nothing could make the uncle feel older, nothing showed him how much he had truly lost and been corrupted more than an afternoon spent with that much innocence. He was always left with a somewhat sad feeling after the kid had gone home, despite the laughs still bubbling in his throat. Some of that sadness – other than the awareness of his own age – came from the realization that this special relationship with his nephew wouldn’t last for too long; it couldn’t. There might be two or three more years of things being pretty much the same, before the kid, off in school and making friends, would be introduced to things the uncle didn’t know about – new things for kids these days.

  Well, he did know how popular video games were with the kids; he had seen the interest with other youngsters his nephew’s age. And his nephew had been exposed to this kind of entertainment through an older brother. Yet the uncle didn’t encourage that kind of “fun” when he was with the kid. He had the idea that his nephew would be spending plenty of time in front of a video screen in coming years, this being the computer age and all. He’d use this short time with him to get the kid outside and doing physical things, as he used to do at the same age.  He hadn’t grown up with video games at hand, and computer use wasn’t commonplace until after he’d left high school, and though the uncle was somewhat computer literate now, he never would associate the machines with youth and having fun. They were something necessary for offices in the business world, but not something to allow a kid to spend hours in front of. Kids should be outside in the fresh air, burning the calories, using their bodies, not sitting like zombies in front of video screens. They should be using their imaginations and making up their own games as they went along. It could be done, yet it was just that, sadly, so many kids these days were out of practice; they weren’t encouraged enough by adults whose own lives revolved around computer screens and TVs. Many of these young parents had grown up plopped in front of televisions; it had been a daily afternoon routine for them after school, and that old habit was easily passed on to the next generation. Now, according to statistics (and it wasn’t surprising news) a whole generation of overweight youth existed – fat-assed kids everywhere living on junk food for their stomachs and the latest video games for their minds. The latest statistic he had heard was that two out of three teenagers – nationwide – were overweight. Perhaps his nephew would be one of them in a few years, because by that time, the uncle knew, his time and influence with the kid would be greatly reduced.

It had already fallen off by the time the kid was eight, with him choosing to play with his friends, doing what they really wanted to do, rather than spend time with uncle. As the nephew got older, the uncle found it increasingly difficult to amuse the kid; his nephew began to balk at suggestions that a few years earlier he would accepted without question. He had learned to do some thinking for himself. Uncle, trying to be flexible, attempted to play some of his nephew’s video games, but he never could offer the kid any competition. To be good enough, he would have had to devote hours of his time to playing a certain game, until it became almost automatic to him, and that, simply put, was never going to happen. The uncle disliked sitting in front of the multicolored screen with its constantly flashing images and the accompanying sound effects for more than half an hour. After that, his attention wandered; he lost interest in scoring so many points and reaching certain levels of game play, though, it seemed, the kid could go on with it for hours. If his nephew tired of one game, he had plenty of others in stock to replace it.

When the nephew became old enough to play Little League baseball, and signed up to play, then there was a new connection for him and his uncle. The uncle had played years of Little League ball (baseball had been his favorite sport), and though he wasn’t the fan he once was, he made a point of attending as many of his nephew’s games as he could. He remembered his own days of standing out there on freshly mowed fields, with the bright white chalk lines marked, and the local crowd in the old wooden stands. He remembered the wooden signs on the field fence, advertising local businesses, and he recalled the names of some of the team sponsors, many of them no longer in existence. There were new names now, for there were more businesses in the area; things had become built-up. And the field fence itself was chain-link now and not the wood that it was years ago.
He remembered how nervous he was before games, but how he would calm down once the action started. Before the game started, the players in different uniforms in the other dugout almost seemed like strangers and not kids he went to school with. Everything was official then, with the coaches and umpires standing around, and the vocal adults in the stands, and that was enough to make him nervous. It wasn’t like a typical pick-up game between just his friends and him.

The uncle knew that his nephew felt the difference, too. The nephew was as shy and quiet as he was at that age, and the uncle could see the kid’s unease – especially in the first few games, when the kid seemed bewildered by all the noise, cheering and attention he got from the adults, which he wasn’t used to. And he wasn’t the only kid on the field puzzled by the importance given to this game by the adults. The uncle knew that kids learned some things about adults when they played organized sports; they saw things come out in adults that they hadn’t seen before, especially in some of the men. It was as if some of the men were ready to jump out on that field with gloves and bats, with some of the old competitive fire showing in their eyes and excited voices. The youthful spirit long hidden behind the big bellies, tired faces and red noses briefly appeared, rekindled by the game’s action. The uncle had to admit he got a little excited himself now when his nephew stepped to the plate at a key point in the game, or when a ball was hit to him at whatever position he played on the field. He yelled, too.

The Little League season was short, however. When it ended, at the start of summer, the kid was off to camp for a couple weeks, and then there were days at the beach, followed by a family vacation in August. The uncle went to the beach once with his nephew, and he was glad to see that the kid had outgrown his fear of the water. He remembered how the little boy held tightly to his hand when the uncle had first taken him to the beach. Now, the kid jumped right in and didn’t hesitate to go underwater. He splashed about with his young friends and rode his small plastic “surf board” over the waves. What a difference a couple of years made, he thought.

The uncle took his nephew to the movies twice that summer, to see the special effects blockbusters this new generation was fond of. The kids were spoiled by state of the art video games and expected nothing less from the big screen. They couldn’t get enough of the technological wizardry, and if a story came with that, all the better. The uncle noticed that computer animation and graphics were used in so many of the new movies that, except for not having a control device in his hand, he could very well have been watching a video game.

The kid seemed to enjoy the movies, in his own quiet way, but he never showed that much enthusiasm for any of them. It always seemed that he was never quite satisfied, that, walking out of the cinema, he was already looking ahead to the next big on-screen thrill. When it came to anything in the video line, the kid was already jaded, the uncle thought, with amusement. Yet his nephew’s interest in the latest in video games and movies reminded the uncle of his days collecting baseball cards and comic books. The uncle remembered that he had been one track minded at times, too – especially when it came to sports and related things. It seemed as if he couldn’t get enough of it at that age.
In the end it was just as the uncle had foreseen it would be with him and the kid. They still enjoyed seeing each other, and if two or three months went by without them doing so, they both found they looked forward to the next visit. They still laughed easily together, and tossed a ball around the yard, or took walks in the neighborhood. They played board games (the nephew’s concession to his “old” uncle) and cards, and watched movies together. But the visits were fewer and shorter and, except for moments, without that past magic. The nephew wasn’t as easy to entertain anymore (in the uncle’s eyes), and the old uncle wasn’t quite as entertaining as he used to be (in the eyes of his nephew). Neither came away from their time together with the same exhausted satisfaction that made those few early years memorable. After a while, they both understood that a new phase had been entered, and, it occurred to the uncle, probably not the last one as the years went on. Yet as long as some connection remained, he could deal with that.
© M. Blake July 2007

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