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Inheriting Uncle Bart

by Linda Ramos

Having my uncle move in with us was a nightmare for me!

    I yawn and stretch and run my fingers through a tangled mop of hair. With eyes half-closed I pull open my bedroom door to head for the bathroom. A long, warm shower will help get me going.
    “Good morning, Lin!” a voice booms.
    I find myself facing Uncle Bart in the narrow hallway. “Mornin’,” I mumble, as I grope at my robe and retreat into my room. “You go first,” I say as I close the door.
    I sigh impatiently and flop onto my bed. A growling sound escapes from my throat as I chastise myself for being so reckless. My recent goal in life has become avoiding Uncle Bart. I thought I’d developed pretty good radar concerning his whereabouts.
    It’s only been a few weeks since Uncle Bart moved in, and I’m still not quite used to him being around all the time.
    I remember a time when he was the favorite uncle of my cousins and me.     He was just like a big kid. When we visited my grandparents’ farm, he played his favorite game of Old Maid with us, looked for kittens in the haymow, and snitched goodies from Grandma’s kitchen cabinet. By the time we were 8 or 9, we’d all outgrown him.
    When Grandpa and Grandma died, they left behind an old farm on a dead-end road, a few antiques, a legacy of faithfulness to each other and to God, and Uncle Bart, whom we inherited.
    My mother cleared out the spare room and set up a nice bedroom for Uncle Bart across the hall from mine.
    It’s awkward sometimes, because Uncle Bart doesn’t always know his place in our house. He butts into conversations. He hangs around when you just want to be left alone to watch TV. He talks incessantly. My Mom has gently tried to curb his penchant for chatter, not so much because she can’t handle it, but because she’s sensitive to the limits to which others, namely I, can handle it. And every afternoon when he comes home from his group activity, you’d swear he’d just spent the day at Disney World. Who knew that arts and crafts with the “special” people could be so exciting? It just never gets old for him.
    Finally I hear the bathroom door open. I listen for his heavy footfalls descending the stairs. The coast is clear.
    After I shower and dress I feel more cheerful. Then as I head downstairs, I hear his voice echoing from the kitchen. I pause on the step and sigh. I thought he’d be outside by now, leaving me to eat my breakfast in peace.
He’s talking with my mom. I almost turn around to head back up when I hear something in the conversation that catches my attention.
    “And . . . and . . . someday when we go to heaven, then we’ll all be the same. I won’t be different anymore, ain’t that right? I’ll be smart, just like you’re smart, and like Linda is smart, ain’t that right, Connie?”
    “That’s right, Barty,” my Mom answers kindly. “All of us will be smarter than we’ve ever been before. But being honest and kind is more important than what you’d call being smart.”
    “Yeah,” Uncle Bart agrees. “That’s what Pa always said.”
I hear heavy footsteps, and then the door closes. I perch a few moments longer on the step, mulling over Uncle Bart’s observations.
When I enter the kitchen, my mom is gazing out the window over the sink, her hands submerged in dishwashing suds. She does her task automatically. Her thoughts are clearly elsewhere.
    There’s so much I’d like to say to her— that I’m proud of her and the way she is with Uncle Bart. She’s such a good example, and I’m sorry for not really doing my part to help make this transition easier in all of our lives.
    Just when I open my mouth to speak, Uncle Bart bursts through the door. My first instinct is to cruise out of sight, but this time I will myself to stay.
    “Good morning, Uncle Bart,” I hear myself say in as cheerful a voice as I can pull off.
    “Oh, there you are!” he says to me. He eagerly strides over and slides something across the counter in my direction. “I made that for you in arts and crafts.” Without another word he turns and clomps out again.
    I reach down and pick up a heart made of plastic canvas and brightly colored yarn. The stitches are uneven, and the color com-bination clashes, yet it’s a beautiful thing. As I stare at Uncle Bart’s spontaneous gift, I am needled with a sense of shame.
    The words of Jesus knock at my brain: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these . . . you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
    I’d been thinking of my uncle as an intrusion into my pampered life. Yet Uncle Bart is the one who honored Jesus in making and giving me his gift, totally ignoring my self-centered attitude of these past few weeks. I guess that means I’m the one who is “the least of these.”
    My mom glances over her shoulder at me. She sees the colorful object in my hands and, with a look of amusement on her face, she says, “Well, that was nice of your Uncle Bart, wasn’t it?”
    “Yes, Mom,” I say, and I’m not even kidding. “It sure was.”
    This story won first place in the General Prose category of the 2007 Insight Writing Contest.

    Linda Ramos is an instructor of English as a Second Language (ESL). Previously she taught art and photography at Broadview Academy in Illinois. She loves to draw, do black-and-white photography, listen to all kinds of music, and write stories. She says, “I’m married to a great guy and have an amazing two-year-old son.” In case you’re wondering, Uncle Bart still lives with Linda’s parents and makes gifts for family members in his arts and crafts classes. Linda writes from De Pere, Wisconsin.

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