Today as I was heading to the bank, I passed my uncle’s auto shop. As I drove by, I had the feeling I should stop in and see how he was doing. Before I go on, a little background is in order.
I had never met my uncle until I was about 21. My uncle was somewhat estranged from our family. He is my father’s half-brother and there were things in the past that have caused feelings to be hurt. Jake and I had been married for a short time and owned a VW. We found out my uncle owned a shop close by and he had extensive knowledge about VW’s. Jake ventured over and quickly became friends with my Uncle Gayle and Aunt Dottie. Gayle fixed the cars and Dottie did the rest to run the business. Over the past 8 or 9 years we have taken our cars there for repairs. Every once in a while we would stop in and chat with them—well, mostly Dottie. She was the talker. Gayle would growl a “hello” and return to work. Dottie was the one who told us stories, gave Alice things to take home, and would visit with us. When we tried to invite them to Thanksgiving or Christmas gatherings, they would decline. Those were the only times they could escape the business and leave of town. This past 4th of July, I received a phone call from my father saying that Dottie had passed away. I kept thinking, “What?!?” If anything I would’ve expected it to be my uncle who had smoked for years (and only recently quit). Dottie had died from a series of strokes. The sad part about it all was that she had had a stroke a week or so prior to her death and had been hospitalized. Gayle had not told anyone in our family. We had no idea that this was even going on. We wanted so much to do something to help, but had no idea what that could be. There were to be no funeral services of any kind. This happened in July and I had still never made contact with him since her death. Although, I have thought of him often, I am terrible at trying to talk to people in these kinds of awkward circumstances so I kept my distance. I knew now that Dottie was gone, he was running the entire shop by himself—they had no employees. Now that he had to do all the work in the shop by himself, I never wanted to take up his time by stopping by just to talk. We had some friends who also have Gayle work on their cars and they had stopped by shortly after Dottie had passed away. They said that he was swearing up a storm and banging on things in the garage and they got the general feeling that Gayle wanted them to leave. I didn’t want that to happen to me.
Back to the story: As I drove by the shop, I had the feeling I should stop. Of course, I kept going. However, the feeling did not go away. I am usually REALLY good at ignoring impressions, but I knew I shouldn’t do that this time. It had been nearly a year since I had last stopped in. Terrible, considering his garage is right here in Woodinville. I had no idea what I might say, or what I would do when I got there. After the bank, I drove straight to his shop. The girls and I found him in the garage working on a car. He came over to the office and we started chatting. This is the crazy part: I don’t think I have ever said more than a few sentences to him before. I mostly always talked with Dottie. But we talked for nearly an hour. Since business was slow, I don’t think he minded the company. I found out so many things about him that I never knew—I love being able to do the listening. He plans to move south with his son and open a new shop. He has a daughter that he just found out about in 2003—she is in her 60’s and she contacted him. Back in 1961 he had planned to marry the mother of this daughter. He knew she was pregnant and assumed the baby was his. She never showed up at the courthouse for the marriage. After tracking her down days later, she said the baby wasn’t his. He was drafted and shipped out a few months later. Come to find out (in 2003) the baby was indeed his. After the initial shock of it all (and after swearing at the daughter when she contacted him) he has since developed a relationship with her. He also told me about his father, my grandfather. I never met him because he died when my father was very young. Gayle said that his father always talked about getting a camper and going on adventures but never had the money/time to do any of it. After seeing his father die at such an early age, Gayle decided he would never simply talk about doing things—he was going to live life to the fullest and enjoy himself. He said he has done that so far. He admitted maybe he could’ve been a little more frugal, but has no regrets. When Dottie was in the hospital, he had to do the dishes and laundry himself. Up to that point in his life he had never learned how to operate a dishwasher or washing machine and had no idea how much detergent to add. Gayle said that luckily Dottie stuck around long enough to tell him how to do it. I asked him what he was doing for Christmas—he tried to avoid accepting an invitation for dinner. He isn’t sure what he’s going to do yet—depends on how business is going and if he wants to leave town. Over Thanksgiving, he replaced the hot water pipes in his bathroom. It is something that he had been meaning to do for a long time. Since he didn’t have much else going on, he tackled the job. I told him he should’ve called Jake to give him a hand (although Gayle’s VERY handy and doesn’t need the help—but maybe the company). He said it was good to have something to do—the busier he is, the better. He still misses Dottie so badly—as do we. Before I left, he told me that he was glad I stopped by. I kicked myself for not coming to visit sooner. He so lonely…
You can read more about his amazing wife here: