Tuesday, December 29, 2009

An open letter to my Uncle, William Manuel Nunes

November 12, 1934 - December 18, 2009

Dearest Uncle,

I'm sorry I was unable to attend today's service. It was held in southern California, a locale you've called home most of your life, thousands of miles and more than fifty degrees from the frigid heartland where I now reside. I'm told the event was well attended, with family and friends, clients and fellow Christians, all there to pay their respects and make their good-byes. And yet, while I wish I could've been there, my regret is out of respect for those who attended, and not because I needed to say goodbye... Because you're still with me and always will be.

Growing up in our mutual birthplace of Stockton, California, my family's yearly visits to "Uncle Bill's house" in Cucamonga (now Rancho Cucamonga), California, were not only a family tradition but also an indelible part of my childhood. And though the occasional side-trips to Disneyland were certainly fun, it's not the Matterhorn or leftover 'A' and 'B' tickets I remember most... It's the time I spent visiting you, my uncle Bill.

I can recall sitting outside on your back porch, with you and my parents, chatting about this and that, as families do (though one unaccustomed to Nunes family traditions might have mistakenly thought we were arguing). I remember winter mornings spent outside in the southern California sun, when those back home in Stockton were huddled indoors away from the cold, damp tule fog. I also remember sipping coffee with you in your kitchen, the vineyards that once surrounded your home (long since replaced by housing developments), and your 'wishing well'. Most of all though, I remember visiting with you in your natural element... Your barbershop.

Regardless of how early we'd make the drive, you were always waiting, chatting up the day's first customers or other barbers, coffee cup in hand. And every time you picked up your sheers, a miraculous transformation occurred...The boisterous former Navy man and gregarious uncle was instantly muted and partially replaced by the meticulous craftsman, whose chosen trade required precision, even perfection... Along with the cracking of the occasional joke or witty banter. Those who failed to watch (and watch closely) simply saw you pick up scissors and begin to work... But I and others saw the hard-earned skills and craftsman's pride engage instantaneously and [seemingly]effortlessly as well.

You've been so many things to so many people over the years, likely causing each of us to see and remember you a little differently... As a barber, husband, brother, father, uncle, friend, veteran, proprietor and small-business owner... The many monikers you've worn. And yet, all the labels fall short... So very short.

For, to me, your nephew, you're all of those things and so much more. To me, you're also a ready smile, a strong handshake, a loving voice, a set of twinkling eyes, a man so much larger than life as to make mere mortal rituals such as funerals utterly and entirely meaningless.

Because I can still feel you with me... In the heart that aspires to be as expansive, in the hands that aspire to be as strong, in the smile that aspires to be as ready, and in the man that aspires to be as hard-working, steadfast, and true... As my uncle Bill.

I love you, Uncle.


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