It is only fitting that Uncle Dutch makes an appearance here… Dutch Henry was my great-uncle, but we first became acquainted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, in the archives, where old photographs of baseball players live on forever. This was back in the good old days when a “family vacation” meant hours of sweating and melting crayons in the way-back of the powder blue station wagon, followed by an exorbitant amount of time spent on a remote Middle America campground, which of course led to terrifying encounters with wildlife, questionable plumbing, and neighbors with mullets and country music collections. Even back then, Uncle Dutch could sense my eagerness to see other worlds.
He followed me back home to Ohio, where he weathered the storm of my prepubescence, glancing over my shoulder as I scribbled furiously in wire-bound notebooks, writing cheap Little House on the Prairie knockoffs and fan letters to New Kids on the Block. He watched me through the dark days of high school when men’s corduroys and flannels seemed like perfectly good wardrobe choices, especially if accessorized with a seat in a coffeehouse. When I got my first boyfriend, he shook his head in dismay, shrugged his shoulders, and suggested that I might be better off focusing on college applications and straight A’s. He was in the first box that I packed to Baltimore.
There he is, in my college dorm room, enjoying prime real estate in the common area, beside a poster of France, a Kandinsky print, and a life-size cardboard cutout of Ricky Martin. The girls took to him naturally, toasting him regularly, and including him in the background of big-night-out pictures, when tube tops and black pants reigned supreme. The year I studied abroad, he tipped his hat to Customs and joined me in a cobblestoned Belgian town.
After graduation, Uncle Dutch felt the same unrest as I did about the prospects of a life without structure. Following a brief free fall, we headed to Michigan, using the pretense of a budding relationship. Uncle Dutch knew, even if I didn’t at the time, that this was a step away from my childhood, into the life of a grown-up, and the lesson was not one of love but of self-reliance and freedom.
A few years later, when Uncle Dutch saw the sparkle on the cityscape of Chicago, he knew we were finally getting somewhere. Did he imagine my initiation into Corporate America, my handsome Irish husband, my new fondness for sushi and my adorable puppy? Did he know all along that life is an evolution? Or did he feel us coming full-circle — to a place that holds terrifying encounters with wildlife, questionable plumbing, and neighbors with mullets and country music collections?
Whatever he may have known then, and still know now, and keep secret, here’s to you, Uncle Dutch, and to a life of new beginnings.