Something about family warms our hearts, even though all of us have plenty of ghosts in our closets. Those relatives bring more happiness than sadness, more good memories than bad dreams. I’ve been thinking of three uncles, my mother’s brothers, and saying a silent “thank you” for their presence in my life.
Uncle Charles was the “baby of the family.” He was a tall, “aw shucks” kind of man. Most of the time, a smile stayed on his face. The man had as many child-like qualities as we did. Charles Balch enjoyed life, and he loved his kids. Oh, like most of us dads, he had some glaring shortcomings that caused some hard feelings, but nobody could stop loving him.
Uncle Charles eventually went to work at Oak Ridge after World War II. The work there was secret, as it’s always been. However, from what I’ve gleaned from others with whom he worked, the man was a pure genius. As the story goes, at time Charles was awing the entire staff, including scientists and managers, at the plant. He was blessed with a raw intelligence that kept him on par with others who’d spent years in formal education. That same genius is present today in his son Charlie, who is now 61.
Uncle Ed was our favorite uncle during our childhood. He’d completed his military career with service in WW II, Korea, and as an ROTC instructor at Xavier in Cincinnati. He earned a degree in accounting and worked with the IRS in Covington, Ky. As a sideline, Uncle Ed became an excellent photographer who shot weddings almost every weekend.
Uncle Ed and Aunt Rosie visited at least once each summer. They’d load up their convertible and head south. For the next week, the couple took a carload of nieces and nephews on trips to the mountains, restaurants, or other fun places. Because they had no children, complete attention turned toward us and on showing us a good time. I suppose our parents enjoyed their visits as much as the kids since the adults got breaks from their charges for at least a couple of days.
The third brother was Wayne. He was the quiet one. When he walked by, women swooned at his good looks, chiseled shoulders and wry smile. Wayne Balch also served in WW II, and then he came home, married Nellie, and became the father of three children who also have proven to be intellectually gifted. He built a house next to our grandparents and made sure they were okay. Wayne worked at the same paper mill as my dad, and he worked shifts that so often kept him confused as to what day or time it was. On one occasion, he missed a ride with others to work, and his life was spared when that car crashed with a train not far from his house.
Wayne had a dry sense of humor. He’d say something and then let that smile creep across his face. His smile was infectious and drew others toward him. He loved his kids and protected them during some tense times in their lives. Never did he speak ill of another person, regardless of how vicious that person might have acted toward him. Just the other day a man mentioned Wayne and ended the conversation with this: Wayne Balch was the best man I ever met.” He was one of two or three persons I knew who was purely good.
These three brothers fought in Europe during WW II, and as fate would have it, they met up at one point. It was a happy time for them and for the folks back home who read the news account of their meeting and knew, at least for that day, they were all safe and alive.
Wayne passed first when congestive heart failure sapped his energies and then his life. Uncle Ed passed next, and within a year, Uncle Charles and my mother also left us. I suppose they’re back together again as a family and are enjoying an eternity together. They showed us the blueprints for being better individuals. Let’s hope we live up to their standards.