MY UNCLE FRANK
By Jim Kittelberger
The bright sunlight illuminated my room making it nearly impossible to keep my eyes closed any longer. It was Saturday morning, which meant no school for two days, two glorious days. It’s not that I hate school; it’s just that everybody always seems to be one step ahead of me. Well, maybe I’m not such a great scholar, and maybe I’m a little shy, backward if you want to be downright nasty about it, but it seems like it takes me a beat or two longer to get the drift of what’s happening around me. Of course, I don’t talk about this with any of my friends on the street; we don’t really talk that seriously about anything, well, except maybe baseball, football, bicycles, or the latest and greatest cupcakes we might buy, if we happen to have any money that day, to go along with a Grapette or an RC cola. Maybe if I had an older brother, or maybe even a sister, no a brother, he could answer a lot of questions I can’t, or won’t, ask my parents. But I don’t so I’ll just have to make do being an only child, it’s not really that bad, especially at Christmas time, but that’s another story.
The sun was filling the room with it’s yellow-white rays and was really making it impossible to keep my eyes closed any longer, so with momentary sadness, I left the dream that seemed so real about a B-24 bomber on which I was the tail gunner. It faded away and I took the plunge. I opened one eye, and then a minute later both eyes to the brightness that almost gave me a headache. I reached over to my radio on the stand beside my bed and clicked it on. After a moment, waiting for the tubes to warm up, the familiar voice of Smiling Ed brought me fully awake as he prepared to plunk his magic twanger and conjure up the presence of froggie, the best part of the Buster Brown show with smiling Ed McConnell. It was a regular Saturday morning fixture that I would probably soon outgrown, but not just yet. Besides who knows what I listen to anyway. I could tell the other kids I listen to the Quiz Kids, but I don’t think they would care one way or the other.
As I lay motionless, relishing the warmth of my bed and the smell of the newly laid coal fire wafting into my room through the nearby register, I think back to what I can remember of my dream. It seemed so very real to be flying in a blue sky and watching the tracer shells streaking toward their target, unafraid and courageous. I turned on my side and smiled as I looked at the set of wings on the table beside the radio. They were the gift from my uncle Frank, who came to visit us nearly a year after the war ended, to assure his sister, my mom, that indeed he was all right and in one piece. I loved my uncle Frank and was in awe of him. He was bigger than life to me. He was only twenty-five years old, but when I first saw him in his uniform and then listened to his letters as my mom read them to us at the supper table, he became the stuff of dreams, at least ten-year-old boy dreams.
After each reading of his letters, I couldn’t wait to be excused and set free to regale my friends with what I had just heard. Just hearing words or phrases such as Germany, England, bomb runs or such would set my mind into such excitement that it became inevitable we would have to dramatize the events with some of the guys holding their arms out horizontally and becoming airplanes trying to shoot down the bomber where I would be manning the machine guns and expelling at least a million rat-a tat-tats. It would end with all of us lying on the ground too tired to stand. At other times he would describe the fire balls created by the bombs they dropped, or the shells exploding close to the plane from the defenders below. During the war I was much too young to know much of what was really going on, and the closest my town ever came to it was in manufacturing materials for the war effort. But I read comic books that chronicled the war and the heroes, and I knew my uncle Frank was out there being brave. He probably should have been featured in the comic books, and if the war lasted long enough I knew he would be.
Since uncle Frank wasn’t married, we, and his parents, were his most immediate family and the recipients of souvenirs from wherever he happened to be at the time. My dad received a pipe from Wales and my mom became greatly excited when the postman brought a box filled with Irish lace and wool from Scotland. He never forgot me, in fact from England he sent me what he called a Toby mug. It was a caricature of Winston Churchill and I loved it, in fact, I still have it although I am afraid to use it too much now for fear I will drop it.
Uncle Frank flew on his bomber missions into early 1945. On what turned out to be his final mission to drop bombs far into Germany, he was unlucky enough, or the enemy was lucky enough to embed a machine gun shell into his shoulder, which ended his flying into harms way and sent him home. We received many letters that affirmed he was well, with no scars from the wound except some stiffness when it got cold, which he was sure he would have to live with forever. But my mom would not be assured until she saw him.
After the adults got through hugging and kissing and asking a thousand questions and things quieted down, in fact my dad fell asleep in his chair, uncle Frank came into my room and sat on the bed beside me. He put his arm around me and told me a little of what he had to do, and why it was the right thing to do. Then he asked me if there was anything I wanted to know? The cat had my tongue and I stammered and stuttered, until he told me to think of him as my big brother and ask him anything, anything at all. At last I had the big brother I always wanted and the questions just flew out of me, until we both were exhausted, laid back on the bed, and fell into a contented sleep.
I have grown old now, and just returned from burying my uncle Frank. He had a military funeral with a bugler playing taps. His family and I cried unashamedly for the man who will always be twenty-five years old to me, and the hero of my childhood.