Rob Oxford: Take the time

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Uncle David, Cousin Cindy, Aunt Bev and Mom

By Rob Oxford

I recently spent an afternoon with my 95-year-old Uncle and his daughters, affectionately referred to by our entire family as the 4 Wood Girls.

They all live on the east coast, so seeing them albeit for only a few hours was a special treat.

When I was a young boy, my Mother’s big brother was a very large and imposing figure.

Extremely tall with great hair, big hands, a big smile, big voice and even bigger laugh. I don’t know if it was because he had no sons and was always surrounded by beautiful women, but I never felt quite comfortable in his presence. Of course, that may have been because I was the “baby of the family” and always treated as such by my Mother.

He may also have expected more of his youngest nephew than I was able to give. Regardless, I always loved time spent with the Wood Family although it didn’t happen nearly enough.

When I was 11 or 12, I stayed a couple weeks at my Uncle’s “land” on Loughborough Lake in Ontario. I think it was the first time I’d been away from home for an extended period.

Rob's first time on waterskis

That was a great summer. With the help of my Aunt Elizabeth, my Mother’s baby sister, my cousins taught me to water ski. Sitting on the edge of the dock with my skis in the water, hesitant but confident, I gave the thumbs up and vrrrooom, off I went! No splinters in my rear, which was my main concern and I didn’t even get went.

I learned much that summer. I learned to be independent, I learned that being the only male living with 5 women had to be difficult and I learned that my Uncle David loved me. However, just how much wouldn’t be revealed until many, many years later.

When my Mother passed away, my Uncle David came to her memorial service in Dallas and delivered the eulogy. I still have a copy. I don’t remember speaking with him that weekend, then again, I’m not sure he would have wanted to hear from me. I wasn’t necessarily in a good place then and I’m sure he’d heard the stories. 

Simply put, I caused my mother much heartache the last few years of her life. Probably no more or less than any other son in his early 20’s learning to spread his wings, the difference being my Mother was suffering from terminal cancer and when I should have been more caring and respectful, I wasn’t.

At the time, I never considered that my Uncle David was losing his little sister. Despite living thousands of miles away he may have felt it was somehow his responsibility to care for and protect her. It had to have been very hard. After all, he’d known her much longer than I.

It would be quite some time before I would see any of the Wood Family again. Christmas cards would be exchanged and I would get bits and pieces of information from different sources, but in all honesty, I was lost and I had been for a very long time. I’d not lived up to anyone’s expectations, including my own, so what was the purpose in being found?

I often wonder what it would have been like to grow up living in the same city as the majority of your relatives? Spending holidays, birthdays and vacations with each other. Attending graduations, weddings and baby showers. My family is spread from one end of the continent to the other. But then again, some families live in the very same city and don’t see each other for decades.

I can’t pinpoint when it was that I finally decided to become “responsible.” It may have been with the passing of my Father many years later, but all of the sudden I started caring about my extended family. I began trying to reconnect the dots. I travelled to see my Aunt Lois and Uncle Roger in Saskatchewan a couple of times and met up with several of my relatives there.

Then out of the blue, I began making phone calls to people I hadn’t spoken to in years, talk about awkward. I hesitate to use the term “making amends,” but essentially that’s what I was attempting to do. I started to realize that for some of us, time was most likely running out and I wanted to spend some of what was left with those whom I loved.

Remember that summer on Loughborough Lake, the summer I learned to ski and be independent? I learned several other valuable lessons that summer. The first being that a young boy of 11 or 12 who insists he can handle a canoe by himself, despite his uncle’s advice, can find himself in trouble rather quickly when the wind comes up on a lake in Canada. I also learned that sound can travel great distances over water and finally, I learned that my cousins were very good at keeping secrets.

I had taken the canoe out farther than I should have and soon found myself up you-know-what creek… however, I had a paddle. Unfortunately, the paddle was doing me no good. I was rapidly being blown further and further away from shore. Scared and frustrated, I started to cry… loudly.

Fortunately for me, my cousin Cynthia heard my plea and contacted my Uncle. Moments later, out of nowhere, as though commanding a Coast Guard Cutter, they arrived to tow me back to shore. Before doing so they politely asked if I “needed any help?”

Trying to nonchalantly wipe away tears I replied, “No, no I’m fine.” Sensing that I wasn’t necessarily “fine,” they mentioned that dinner was almost ready and was I “sure I wouldn’t like to be towed back to the dock?”

“Oh, dinner's almost ready? Well if you think that would be best?” ...attempting to disguise my relief I was thankful to have been rescued.

It would be 30 years or more before I was told that my cousins knew of my plight, that my rescue wasn’t just happenstance and that my Uncle had threatened them if they ever said a word.

That was the precise moment I realized just how much My Uncle David loved me.

I wish I’d spent more time with the 4 Wood Girls, my Aunt Bev and my Uncle David.

I wish I could spend another summer on Loughborough Lake. Because time does eventually run out.

So, until it does, be sure to “Take the Time”.


Ali December 1, 2019 at 4:04 PM  

Thanks for your heartfelt story and reminders. I appreciate them!

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