I was about to graduate high school, enjoy a normal summer, and then go off to hair school when my Uncle asked me to fly to BC and spend three weeks with him and his wife. I loved my Uncle and was up for an adventure so I said, “yes.” This wasn’t my first trip to BC. My Mom had taken me out to see my Uncle shortly after my fourth birthday. Now sixteen years later I was going again. A lot had happened in those sixteen years. My Dad had passed away, we had moved off the farm, I struggled to settle into a new school and I had grown up.
My Uncle had taken an interest in me and my siblings from the time I was little, always requesting our school pictures, sending letters, and coming to see us when he came to Manitoba. He showed even more interest in me after my Dad passed away.
I flew to BC and my Uncle met me, with a hug, at the Victoria airport. It felt a little strange to be hugged by a man, a father type. This wasn’t his fault, I had learned over the last ten years that some men in that age group couldn’t be trusted.
I loved the scenery and all the spots Uncle John, Aunt Helen and I, stopped as we drove to their home in Youbou, on Lake Cowichan. We pulled up in front of his garage and Uncle John pulled the garage door up to reveal his shop and the stairs going up to their kitchen. I had never seen a kitchen on the second floor of a house before. He showed me the clock he was making for me, out of a tree knot and a clock kit. He was in the polishing stage. I was honored.
Every morning, Uncle John would put his paper down and say “where is my hug?” The first time he did this I felt first a little in shock, and next a little suspicious, and then it felt good.
We would have breakfast and then take Uncle John’s two dachshunds for a walk. During the day he and Aunt Helen would take me on trips in every direction. We saw every waterfall, beach, and mountain for miles around. As we traveled and toured parks and other tourist spots, my Uncle John was not afraid to show me how he felt. He would help me, along with Aunt Helen, down from high places as we walked and he would put his arm around our necks, and we would talk. We had trips, just the two of us, as well, to get the mail or to go swimming or tour a park. One day my Uncle John said, “Did you know that I’m treating you like I do my daughters?”
I said, “Yes.” Although I hadn’t been treated like a daughter for many years and I wasn’t sure what that would be like, and I hadn’t seen much of Uncle John with his daughters so I didn’t have anything to compare it to. It was a choice to choose to trust that he was treating me like his daughters it didn’t come easy.
It was difficult for me because my dad had passed away when I was six and my step father tried in some ways, but had no idea how to be a father. I was more afraid of him, than I ever felt loved and safe with him. I had to remind myself that this was my uncle and he had two daughters of his own and I wanted to believe his motives were pure.
I loved my time with my Uncle John that summer. I wish I could go back and live it again and because of my experiences with his love, I would feel freer to be myself and let him be that father figure he wanted to be. It was a summer I will never forget.
Uncle John came to Manitoba and said the toast to the bride at my first wedding and my husband and I went out to BC for our honeymoon. We went to a lot of places Uncle John had taken me to.
Uncle John only came to Manitoba once after that and his letters slowed down and the last Christmas card I got from him said that he wasn’t sure if he had already sent me a card, but he wanted to make sure I got one. I was grateful. I called him a couple of times after that because I knew he was losing his memory.
We went out to BC once, but my family told me that Uncle John wouldn’t know me and I didn’t think I wanted to experience that. On another trip out though I did decide to go and see him. I set my plans after hearing a story about a person with low functioning autism. This person had grown up to live a very normal life and said when he was young even though he couldn’t understand the world around him or get what he was thinking out, he was in there and wanted to communicate. It made me realize that my Uncle, suffering with Alzheimer’s, was in there also and he could know that I was there.
I said that to my cousin and my Aunt after I arrived in BC. I explained autism and then I said he could know I am there. On the way to the senior’s home I said a prayer. I said, “God, just have him know I’m there.”
I remember what the road looked like in the place where I prayed. The inside of the vehicle, the green grass, and the rocks that went straight up into a cliff off to the west of the road on the way to Ladysmith.
My cousin told me that Uncle John hadn’t know anyone for five years and that he had run away from them a couple of times because they were too close and he didn’t know them .
We walked in the front door of the nursing home and there was Uncle John looking the same as he had the last time I had seen him. He still had all of his white hair and barely any wrinkles. He sat as still as a rock and he didn’t even move as we came up to him. I purposely didn’t touch him, I didn’t want him to run from us. My cousin touched him though and said, “Dad you are cold.”
I think he had just forgotten to move. Aunt Helen went to his room and got him a sweater. We put his sweater on him and I stayed in my squatted position in front of him. His eyes were glazed over. My cousin Andrea started talking about the family history that my other Aunt Helen had sent out from Manitoba and how Uncle John had recognized some of the names and turned toward her when they were spoken.
When Andrea said the name Aunt Helen, Uncle John turned and looked at her. She told him who she and Aunt Helen were and he thought Aunt Helen was Andrea. Andrea asked him if he knew his brother Gordon’s, daughter.
He said “Yes.”
She said “Marj Howden?”
He said, “Yes.”
She said, “Turn and look, she’s right in front of you.”
He turned and looked at me, his eyes were clearing and he smiled at me. “ And aren’t you a pretty girl.” he said.
“That’s what you said to me 16 years ago.” I said, “And that’s because I’m a Howden.”
“And that’s not such a bad thing.” he said.
Andrea asked me to repeat what he said. So I did. Upon reading this she reminded me that Uncle John had taken my hand and held it. I recalled that when she said it.
Then a nurse stopped by and told us they were taking them out in a boat ride later that day. We asked Uncle John if he was going to go fishing and he said “no” and he told us he had given up fishing because he had to clean them after. We all laughed.
My Aunt Helen and Andrea stepped outside.
I told Uncle John that I was thankful to him that he had treated me like a daughter when I was out visiting him after I graduated.
He said, “I’m so glad I did,” he smiled and I could tell he was trying to stay out with me.
I hugged and kissed him I’m sure three times and said, “I love you” and “Good bye.” It was hard to leave him but I also felt I had been given a very special gift.
I stepped outside and my cousin said “You knew didn’t you.”
I wasn’t sure what to say, I wish I had prayed, “Just have him know that we’re there.” so he would have recognized Aunt Helen and Andrea more, as well. All I could say was that God had answered prayers for me before and this was an important one. Uncle John passed away just a few months later and my cousin and my aunt came out to see me and my family the next spring. My cousin repeated what she said before. “You knew didn’t you?”
How I would answer that now is “I released my faith and God answered. Mark 11:24 “Whatever you ask for in prayer believe that your receive it and you shall have it.”
Matthew 21:22 “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”
The other correlation I see from this part of my life is how many time God answered my prayers and showed me he loved me and I still didn’t trust Him as easily as He wanted me to. He wanted to be my father when I was fatherless.