He was my first encounter with a living legend. He was Popeye; A big moose of a fellow, with tattoos on his strong arms, and the most friendly, caring, goofy fellow one could ever meet.
As with any legend, you knew he was coming. Like a rolling thunder from over the hills… off in the distance, maybe a mile or so away… a sound. The Chicken Dance! I remember him rolling into my Dad’s dooryard in his little red S10 pickup truck blaring the Chicken Dance – wide smile on his face. My Dad giggling at the spectacle that just landed before him.
His wasn’t a subtle sense of humor. What you got was unexpected, boisterous tomfoolery. From a seemingly quiet fellow, he’d burst out into a nonsensical phrase or series of noises, a wide-eyed grinning expression, maybe extruding his false teeth… or just a quick poke right where it’s most ticklish. Or it was straight-up deadpan delivery of the most sarcastic or off-the-wall false truth – and you’d believe it. Until he’d laugh, and you knew you were had. If he teased you, it meant he loved you. Kids loved him. Dogs loved him, and his pocketful of dog biscuits. I loved him. I’m pretty sure much of my goofiness, and my son’s came from and lives on for him.
He was never far from my family. At his funeral, my Dad spoke fondly of him. Not as a brother-in-law, but as a true brother. Les was always there for us, and likewise us for his family. When I was ten and my brother 6, my Dad built the house we spent the rest of our childhood in around us. Uncle Les would be there helping swing a hammer, or run wire, or roofing. Not because he had to, but because he wanted to be around us and enjoy our company, getting something accomplished along the way. He helped us build our garage… both of them. It had burnt down in 2001, and we rebuilt it ourselves. On one of these construction days, we were up on the homemade scaffolding starting the first few rows of shingles. Something gave way, and we all fell on our butts on the ground below. I remember scrambling to make traction with my hands on those shingles to try to slow my descent, scraping up my arms, and then abruptly sitting on my ass. Unbeknownst to me, a board had nearly clocked me. Uncle Les saw it coming and batted it away instinctively, innately aware of his surroundings and his loved ones.
He was always a big strong guy I looked up to, it was tough to see him soften and fade away like he had. For a time, I worked in the factory with my Dad. He was supervisor for the machinists, and I worked in Shipping & Receiving running the fork trucks. Uncle Les would come in and deliver an oil barrel to the shop, effortlessly moving the 55 gallon barrel with ease from his truck onto the loading dock. Meanwhile, my 19 year-old self struggled to heft it onto the forks to deliver it to the holding area.
Later, our paths would continue to cross in the working world, albeit he was retired by then. I moved into a job in IT for the City of Westbrook, and he and Aunt Cheryl moved into Westbrook where she picked up an office job for the police department. She was one of my favorite stops, where of course she’d have treats, and Uncle Les would often be sitting next to her for a visit. They were inseparable. Later on, Aunt Cheryl went to work at the front desk for the attorneys Amy had to walk away from, when Jordan was born. And again, there’d be Uncle Les sitting in the lobby with her for lunch. As much as they picked on each other, you could’ve thought they hated each other if you didn’t know better, but it was always out of affection.
It was a pleasure sharing a path on this Earth with you, Uncle Les. You taught us to find or even be the simple pleasures in what can be a tough life, and set the standard in loving your partner. Please say hi to Jamie when you get where you’re going. We still miss him down here. Much love to you both. ❤