I grew up in the thick of the South, left with hazy memories of my uncle’s rare visits. But, I found myself missing a warm glow when he was gone. During my thirties, I’ve revisited that whispering connection.
After my uncle’s 1950’s and 60’s childhood filled him with the gospel of Southern Wonderbread, he fled—like many gay men—to somewhere far from home. My uncle found sanctuary under a wide-brimmed, floppy, straw hat, digging dirt and trimming hedges in front of a Midwest salon. Years later, as a hairdresser, he says he “politic[s] from [his] chair, one client at a time.”
He unwraps the precious people and spaces in his city for me, like a gift. Through fragile crystal-cracks running through irises of blue-glass eyes, he sees kindness in each person we pass. He retreats to his rustic garden, attending obsessive watering habits with a grace and boyishness that leaves everyone longing for his presence.
When a too thin young woman stops by, the sun warms him back round the corner to the front yard, with his small chuckling shrug and caught-hands-in-the-garden smile. He’s cut her hair since she wore tutus and princess crowns in his chair. Now she’s alienated from her family; he listens to her, empties his pockets, and asks that she talk to her parents.
Weekends, my uncle flees the city through mile after mile of dusty bumps to his mountain cabin made of wood salvaged from an historic home. I framed the photo where his eyes shone like geodes under the floppy hat, beside the freshly planted, rusty, cast-iron pump. Now his guest, I smile as he carries the hose around his cabin, stepping gently through high grass, as if it’s someone he knows. There, he disappears into the glowing mist, to find even more quiet than the mountain town, alone, bestows.