My Uncle Boom died Wednesday. He was the first person to make me put on my seat belt, the first person to serve me a martini.
He was a Santa Claus of a man, no beard or suit, but lots of ho, ho, ho. When he laughed, his shoulders would bounce almost to his ears. That's how I'll remember him, laughing, tan, in a striped shirt and chinos, framed by the American flag stretched across the cottage at his beloved Crystal Lake. When he gave you a hug and said "Hi ya cuz!" you felt like he had been sitting there waiting all day just to see you.
He was Midwestern to his core. Solid. Honest. Safe. Even his name is sturdy. Bob Beck. Beck. Brick. Rock. Beer. So different from the melodic Latin surnames in my adopted California. And so emblematic for the sturdy Germans of southern Ohio who are my ancestors.
Like many who were part of his Greatest Generation, he served. Navy, Rotary, Scouts, School Board. He'd say no big deal, that's what people do. His insurance business was just another way he took care of people and tried to do the right thing.
He was married to Aunt Ellen for sixty years. Married, in love with and crazy about the same woman for sixty years. Midwestern people seem to do that. In the 60s, when she started her long road to a PhD he organized the chores at home, back in the days before men were very good at that.
I think the insurance business was the reason he was an evangelist for seat belts. The martinis? I'm not sure about the source for their inspiration. My first martini, the one he made for me, was on a camping trip when I was old enough to join the adults for cocktail hour. Hint: martinis taste best in the Michigan woods.
I haven't been camping in years but I always wear my seat belt. And from now on all my martinis will include a silent, or not-so-silent toast to Uncle Boom.
Uncle Boom, this one's for you!