I come from a matriarchal family. I have few recollections of my uncles. Mum's brother was young and wild. I have a couple of happy memories of him - in my aunt and grandmother's house in Brisbane - teaching us kids to spit, giving us sips of his beer (XXXX of course!). We didn't see him that much - he was roaming, brawling and labouring with a bit of rodeo riding on the side. There is a photo of him that I love. It reminds me of the 70s cigarette advertisement - Marlboro Man.
Years later when my family were in Sydney and i was in my early teens we had a couple of Christmases on our own - just the 5 of us, Mum, Dad and the three girls. All our extended family were in Brisbane and country QLD. One year I can remember our excitement and joy when unexpectedly 2 people rocked up at our door. Yep, mum's brother had finally found himself a good woman and on the spur of the moment they decided to park the truck and visit us. (Family rumour has it that the QLD constabulary had suggested my uncle not return to QLD - I don't know how accurate that rumour is but he moved to Vic and then later to WA where he still lives - with that same 'good woman'. My eldest sister keeps in touch with them.) It felt great to have some other family around at Christmas. Mum was absolutely in her element.
Then there is the 'uncle' by marriage who is best forgotten really - except to say that I feel very lucky that my sisters and I never became his prey. None of that came out until years later but even as kids I don't have any strong memories of him. He was just 'around' although I love his exwife - Mum's sister to bits. And my cousins from that family are great too.
Then there was my godfather - husband to Dad's sister. I liked him a lot when I was younger. I remember waiting out the front of the family home in Sunnybank - watching down the street for an old fashioned figure wearing - I can't recall what they are called - you know - the old mens hats that have made a bit of a comeback this year? I bought Phil a black straw one in fact - but my uncle's were felt, checkered with a little feather in the side -a fedora? He also carried a tattered gladstone bag. He was a labourer and soon he was older and out of work. More recent memories are dominated by his absence. He was usually at the TAB putting on a bet, or drinking a few pints - he'd come home late for tea and not long before we had to leave. A merry sentimental tipsy old man who wanted to 'jitterbug'. He collapsed and died in his kitchen some years ago now. My cousin, his oldest son refused to let them take his body away and the police had to step in to help. My aunt misses him every day.
The twins have a couple of our close friends that they occasionally refer to as 'uncle' although technically they are not. It is more as a sign of respect and to show the close relationship these men have with our family. Their godfather for example who Hannah just loves. I never had that. Mum and Dad pretty much kept to themselves and the family when we were growing up.
They also have Phil's brother who lives in Melbourne and my SILs husband in Sydney. Then there are my sisters husbands who live in Brisbane. But one of the uncles who stand out in our family - is the uncle of my nieces and nephews - Miles. He is my brotherinlaw's brother. His brother married Phil's sister if that makes sense. He and his father have become regular features at family gatherings over the years and for a period of time he lived with my SIL and his brother and their kids.
He is a lovely man. The kids adore him. He plays with them, riles them up and brings them the most ridiculous presents which they just love. He is kind and gentle with them too - and also very sweet with Hannah and Kit. Just 2 weeks ago we had a family gathering to celebrate the January birthdays and he was there - as usual. Playing video games with the kids, chatting with the adults, swimming with the family. Then we went down south for a week at the beach. A few days after we got back - just last Thursday in fact, he was bushwalking and had a heart attack. His girlfriend knows CPR and kept him breathing - luckily a helicopter was there to rescue someone with a broken leg - once they were contacted they assisted Miles. But still he had been unconscious and not breathing for around 30 minutes - the damage was done. Tonight the plan is to take him off the respirators, and let him go. It is heartbreaking and shocking. So quickly - so unexpected. My poor SIL and BIL - they had so much on last year I was really hoping that 2011 would be a much better year for them - it isn't starting out that way at all.
So as I write this I say a prayer and pay tribute to a wonderful man who is a great uncle and who soon will not be with us. I hope his passing is painless and pray for strength for the family he leaves behind. God speed Uncle Miles and look after his loved ones left behind.