Monday, March 9, 2015

Sticktuitiveness: Remembering my Uncle Gary

I lost my Uncle Gary yesterday afternoon.  He was a good man, and the only uncle on my paternal side, as my father has only one sister: his twin, Michelle.  It's been many years since I've seen him but as I thought about the fact that I won't get to see him again on this side of eternity, a word came to mind that epitomized how he changed my life: sticktuitiveness.

My Uncle with my Cousin Jenny, Summer 2014
We were sitting around my parents' kitchen table in Anaheim, California.  It was mid-afternoon on a July summer day.  I had just come back from a seminary I had hoped to attend but for numerous reasons I had returned home only to find out that my scholarship to the elite school I had attended prior to that summer had been given to another candidate.  Already low from the summer's failure, I had decided on homeschooling for my senior year.  My parents didn't really see an alternative and I was confident then (as I am now) in my ability to study on my own, having always been an A-student.  But at the time (1997) there wasn't really a homeschool-alternate-equivalent to a high school diploma.  There was only the GED.  And I was okay with getting one.

Uncle Gary, who was sitting at the table with my Aunt Michelle, was having none of it.  He made the case for a high school diploma, saying it was something I just needed to get done and over with and I would always have it, "in the bank" he said.  It was only one more year, after all, and even though I had never attended public school, for various reasons, it would just be that year, and then I could do what I wanted, he reasoned.  There were some more reasonable points he brought up and I couldn't really dispute them.  At one point there was a lull in the conversation and he looked me square in the eye and said, "You know what you need, Stevie?  You need some sticktuitiveness."  The word rolled off his tongue as if it were an everyday idiom, not something he had probably either a) invented on the spot or b) already possessed as a concept he believed in.  But I got it.  That discussion that afternoon removed any objections I had to attending public school and for better or worse I was a part of the Loara High School class of 1997.  That path changed my life for various reasons, not the least of which was my meeting a friend who would one day send me a job posting for my first SAT tutoring job, a career pursuit that has in large part given me the life and happiness I possess today.  Could he have seen that at the time?  No, and it didn't matter.  His nephew was going to do something incredibly stupid and there was no way he wasn't going to be heard on the matter.  I'm glad he was just being who he was.

But the first time I met Uncle Gary was in 1986, on a first visit to the United States from my place of birth, Singapore.  He was warm and welcoming, and 2 years later he and my Aunt Michelle generously welcomed our family into his home, with all my cousins.  It was quite a scene but we had an absolutely amazing time.  Something I will remember for the rest of my life, as will my sister Clare, were his "Lone Ranger" stories.  Every night, before we went to bed, Uncle Gary came into our room and told us stories of the Lone Ranger.  I never got the chance to ask him where these stories came from, or how he made them so fun and engaging, but we were spellbound every single night.  It was a ritual.  The lights were out.  We were in our bed, wide-eyed and awake, sheets up to our necks in anticipation, and he would spin yarns involving Tanto, the Lone Ranger, and his famous steed, Silver.  I wish I could tell you specifics, but I remember vivid details of bad guys, chases through the desert, and gun battles.  And he would end every night with the Lone Ranger riding off, saying, "Hiyo Silver, awaaaaayyyyyy!"  My sister and I were nowhere near sleeping.  It certainly wasn't a ritual to help us go to bed, as we were just as wide-eyed and excited at the end of the story as at the beginning.  But that wasn't the point.  The point was that he loved us and welcomed us into his home, and I'm not certain our family could have come to America at that time, in 1988, without living with relatives.  And that was another way my life would have been completely different.

And while this morning I am a world away, on another continent, living another life, I feel his loss, and I mourn him.  But I will always be grateful for how he impacted my life, in little ways, and large ones.

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