I was listening to some World War II era music recently, and a tune by Harry James and his orchestra triggered some thoughts from childhood. The song was “Waiting For The Train To Come In,” and it brought back a memory of my Uncle John coming to visit us and arriving on the train.
I’ve had several uncles – and been one myself for a lot of years – and it’s a relationship that’s always sort of fascinated me. Uncles seem to inhabit a special place in the family dynamic, sometimes providing a slightly off-kilter influence on our childhood. Maybe it’s because they’re able to get away with things that a dad might not, or just that they provide a touch of adventure.
I had lots of uncles on both sides of the family. My dad had two brothers and a sister (I had numerous aunts too) and they’d been orphaned before reaching adulthood, so sort of went their separate ways. All four (including my aunt) ended up spending time in the service during World War II, but Uncle John was the only one who had a long and successful career in the military.
He spent many years in the Navy, putting his time to good use by becoming an expert in diesel engines, and he became so good at it that he later taught the subject at the big Naval facility in North Chicago. I remember visiting him there when I was a teenager, and by then he’d settled down with a wife and two young daughters. Eventually he retired and landed a good job in private industry.
But most of my earlier memories revolve around his visits to us while he was on leave, because he’d sometimes talk about his travels as part of the crew of different ships that always seemed to be going to exotic places. I loved those times and remember even seeing some of his mementos from those trips.
One of his biggest adventures occurred in 1955 when I was a little older. He was part of the crew of the Navy icebreaker USS Glacier on the first Operation Deep Freeze. It was a highly publicized expedition to Antarctica, one of many that would be made through the years. I can still remember him showing us his many keepsakes from the trip, and I think he might have even given me a couple. Wish I still had them.