"Do you recall a metaphor I use which describes life moving forward on an 'up' escalator, and the people at the top, usually from the oldest generation are getting off, and those just behind, are moving towards the top?"
My fourteen year old daughter had returned only moments before from a high weekend in the mountains of New Hampshire with a friend. We had hugged and then I'd put my arm in hers and headed for the backyard deck where we cozied together on a step.
"Yes," she nodded, her eyes widening as she focused intently on me in the cool beauty of the autumn setting sun. She had hoped we could share some good conversation about her trip, but she suddenly expected otherwise.
"Uncle Bud just got off," I whispered.
My eyes watered as I began to relate the details instead, now, of my weekend .
I told her how her younger sister had stumbled onto the news the afternoon before, when a male neighbor who had just discovered his body had emerged, pale and shaken, from Bud's home while she played unsuspectingly on his lush and expansive lawn, always with his blessings.
And how Emily had run, crying, across the street to our home and frantically telephoned me at my friend's house, imploring me to come home.
And how I'd arrived to two police cars and an ambulance, entered Bud's home and had seen his strapping bodv slumped and covered on the bathroom floor, dead about two days, probably of a massive heart attack.
And how I was shocked and devastated.
We sat there so sad as we thought of him.
Uncle Bud was not our blood relative. Rather, he was the "neighborhood" uncle, a kind of generic uncle whom many considered family. Lots of people called him "Uncle Bud" because he was this colorful, folksy, teddy bear of a guy with an avid interest in people and a particular appreciation for children, to whom he gave candy and took for rides in his boats. You could be sure to have fun if he babysat you.
He was a boisterous character who made the neighborhood come alive just by his presence. I frequently heard his booming voice from my backyard garden when he was down the street.
"Howahyah, neighbah" he'd good naturedly holler from his property. When I'd call his home or visit with him, he'd always roar a clipped "H'lo" which would hang in the air, and I'd always smile a moment first before I'd say what I wanted to say.
Whenever someone asked him how he was, they never got a straight answer. He'd always bark, " 'Bout the same!"
There is a sandwich on the menu at the floating restaurant off the dock at the end of our dead-end street named after him. It's called the "Roaring Rossiter". The description fit him and was the cause of great humor in the neighborhood.
Bud's life and mine were intertwined because we liked each other and did many of the same things together. I relished it.
We mowed our lawns together; we enjoyed the company. We'd go back and forth across the lawns and smile and wave, or stop to talk.
And every winter, we'd go out into the late night air and shovel our snow some, meet under the lamplight in the middle of the street and tell stories and laugh, and then shovel some more.
My kids walked their doll carriages, rode their bikes, and skated in his long driveway. They also regularly tumbled and cartwheeled down his hill near where he sometimes planted his boat buoys or his geranium pots. Occasionally we watched and would begin a monologue. He was such a talker, such a storyteller, and I would learn about trees and animals, human nature, and his favorite subject-neighborhood and town gossip.
He would tell a story so many times that his grandchildren would warn him, "No repeats!!" Soon he began to use the phrase himself and then my family be gan to use it, too, often on him. We had a similar sense of humor.
Whether telling an endless assortment of stories or telling the same story endlessly, he was always ready for a punchline. Uncle Bud was a kidder. He was known for his one-liners. He would tell my daughters, "Here's a dime, call me when you're sixteen!" Then he'd chuckle. Whenever he left us, he'd bellow, "Well, ahright ladies, don't think it ain't been chahmin', 'cause it ain't!" and we'd always jump in and finish the sentence with him.
During the fifteen years we'd known each other, and despite the thirty year age difference, he and I had been pals and I'd grown exceptionally fond of him and his ways.
For garbage day, he always put out either a neatly-wrapped and tied card board box, or his special steel drum with the town's colors on it.
Day or night, he'd carry a chair or bench from his garage out onto his driveway to relax and carouse with passersby.
He'd so often get into his stationwagon with the loose part which made a continual screeching sound (and which he claimed he never heard) and drive off on assorted errands. I always heard him come and go. His favorite ride was to a place he referred to as "The Green Street Supply," or as ev eryone else knew it, the town dump. He was forever on his way to or from it, looking forbikes for.neighborhood kids or parts for neighbors' plumbing. In fact, he went there so often he was awarded an honorary license from the dump office.
He had an affinity for collecting and recycling junk and he'd spend hours tinkering with lawnmowers, sleds, tools, anything.
We both cared about putting things neat, clean, and in working order. To that end, we puttered in each other's garages fixing things. We were playmates.
Occasionally, I would drive him to get his car from the repair shop or take him to the bus or airport, but he came to my aid more. He removed a mouse from my house, replaced a faucet, put up and took down my air conditioner, brought his ladder for my awnings, and boarded up an open window frame. He also pulled my car out of snow banks.
Sometimes he did things not everyone approved of. While he loved and had many animals, including horses, chickens, and rabbits, now and then, and particularly with pesky raccoons, he would say he was "gonna give 'em swimmin' lessons. " He'd return and declare, "They flunked!"
Bud walked often...for his health, to check up on the town parking lot, the boat dock, the street. He was nosy and involved, the guardian of the neighborhood, and made me feel safe.
He had a relaxed, mechanical stride, a unique shuffle that moved his substantial body onward. And he wore "comfort clothes," the same ones over and over. There were khaki pants with paint on them, a white tee-shirt with a plaid, flannel shirt over it, ripped boat moccasins, and his burgundy light-weight jacket. In winter, he wore his tan jacket with the zipper hood and his woolen, English tweed hat.
We'd go to different meetings together and "the Old Salt" would always stand up and shout, "Rossiter, 155 Village" before speaking, and people would turn around to look at him. He could be gruff and was a thorn in the sides of some, but he was his own man and forcefully spoke his mind. A practical and hard-working New England Yankee, he never complained about himself, only about issues.
Just one time can I remember his being angry with me. It was when I decided to make my chimney three colors instead of one. He was furious! It surprised me because he was usually so laid-back about the rest of my wreck-of-a house.
He knew I loved lilacs and told me several times to dig up one of his bushes for my own. And he always let me pick lilacs from his yard.
I hated it when he went away for a week to visit his son or daughter. It made the neighborhood temporarily quiet. But now I must face the fact that it will be permanently quiet.
Bud was one of those people you knew from the start you'd be lucky to have known. He was the best!
He was philosophical about death: "When yuh numbah comes up..." he'd say. And when it came his time, his affairs -his home and his papers-were in order, waiting for the finale.
"So long, Uncle Bud. Don't think it ain't been chahmin', 'cause it was!"
Betsy Moment is a teacher and writer who lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts.