Monday, October 5, 2020

My Uncle Chuck

To most, you were Charles Mitchem. 

To some, you were Charlie.

To me, you were my Uncle Chuck.

As my Mom's brother, you married my Dad's sister which meant that it always felt like we had a special bond even tighter than just regular family.  I am sure it was the way you treated all the nieces and nephews but you made me feel like I was your favorite.  

Some of my first memories in this world were with you.  I remember that you always had a bag of M&Ms in your pocket for me.  And apparently I had a proclivity of chewing your "coddar."  You see, flannel shirts used to have a plastic piece in the "collar" and apparently when people would pick me up, I would start to chew on the collar of their shirt.  Of course they didn't realize until they put me down that they had a wet collar!  I am sure that I chewed my fair share of your "coddars."

Growing up, the Mitchem's lived on the corner of Emmet and Roseland Street, and the Charette's were just two blocks away on Emmet and Hooper.  As was in the 70's and 80's, family would just drop by and end up staying for a beer or sometimes dinner and the closer they lived the more often you saw them.  Of all my relatives, I probably saw you and Auntie Sandie the most.  

This extended to most major holidays as well.  I could count on seeing you every 4th of July as we hosted the annual backyard - grill out - pool party - badminton match at our house.  Then in late November, Thanksgiving was another mainstay with our close knit family as the Charette-Mitchem's made our way to the north side of Iron Mountain to enjoy turkey with Rocheleau's.  Just a few weeks later, we would be together again as a family for Christmas Eve at our house (well at your house when I was very small) followed by Rocheleau's on Christmas Day.  On Phil's first Christmas at our house we introduced ourselves collectively as the loud family.  

Back when you had to develop a roll of film, pictures were really only taken at major holidays or birthdays, so most of the photos that I have of my childhood, which paint the background of my memories, have you in them.  When I look at the picture of you wearing that hunter orange knit chook folded up with the black whitetail deer circular logo and your blue flannel shirt, along with your epic mustache, it puts me back into that moment of my 10th birthday like it was yesterday.  

While it is not a major holiday for the rest of the world, November 15th is a holiday in Michigan.  That is because it is the opening day of deer (rifle hunting) season.  Your camp was a stone's throw from ours and long before I was old enough to hunt, my Dad would bring me to camp during deer season.  I have so many fond memories of sitting at the table in your camp listening to your stories.  As I got older, I found that the more PBR's that we had, the taller the stories became and the more cards that were dealt off the bottom of the deck.  From the 15th to Thanksgiving, we were either at our camp or yours and while the memories are about as clear as the cigarette smoke that blanketed the ceiling, you were a key part of them. 

Your move to Kentucky while I was in high school meant that we saw less of each other.   It feels like a lot of years, maybe too many, passed in the 1990's when I don't have many memories of you.  Then as you moved to Florida in retirement, followed by my move to Alabama meant that we were no longer two blocks apart like we were once upon a time.  But that didn't mean that you still weren't my favorite uncle. 

We were together for the Christmas in July celebration on the Menominee River in 2004 and apparently had graduated from PBR up to Miller Lite according to this picture.  Your mustache was a thing of the past but your knack for the occasional inappropriate joke or comment was just as strong as ever!  That was what made you, you -- that carefree attitude of saying what was on your mind that could both make people laugh and cringe at the same time but always good natured. 

And I can only the BS that must have been flying here as two brothers shot the shit. 

The last time that we got a chance to see each other in person was in August, 2016.  It was another family gathering at my parents Tiki Bar on the Menominee River.  You never know when it will be the last time you see someone.  This would be ours.  

Eventually your heart, your mind and your spirit were let down by your body, which just could not fight the cancer any longer.  We tried valiantly to get to Florida to say goodbye in person, but it just wasn't meant to be.  From what I've heard, you were full of  stories right up until the very end.  I wouldn't have expected any less.  

If I had been there, I would have simply told you that you will always be my uncle Chuck, whether it is in this world or the next.  Then I would have pulled these out of my pocket and show you that life had come full circle.  

We will do our best to care for and watch over Auntie Sandie and Missy for you.  Come this deer season I will be wearing my hunter orange chook in your memory and as we throw down the PBRs, we will be telling stories of the many deer seasons of the past.  As the playing cards get thicker with the progression of the night, I will see if I can master dealing from the bottom of the deck in your honor.