The Last Uncle

The one fact that we cannot ignore as we get older is the loss of the previous generation. Those of us in the Baby Boomer demography have begun to encounter these inevitable occasions when we lose somebody from the family ranks and the occasions become all too frequent as we move through life.  Most of us have gone from two generations away with the loss of our grandparents earlier in life to the more current loss of our parents.

The other variable in the equation is the loss of aunts and uncles as we move into the latter stages of our own lives. My father was the eldest child in a large family of 11 and he has been gone since the late 70s. The last of my father’s five brothers passed away recently and it made me think about how Uncle Bruce’s death marked another milestone of loss for our family. It is a situation that will be encountered by every family when they lose a legacy with the passing of the previous generation.

Uncle Bruce was treated like a rock star at family events because he was a friendly man with a quick wit who was willing to share his anecdotes about family history to everyone who spent time with him. I was always glad to get a new angle on my father’s life from Uncle Bruce because they had experiences together that preceded me by many decades. It was the kind of information that gets more important to me as I get older and I am sure that my many cousins were also spellbound by Uncle Bruce’s stories about their own parents.

It was not always this way for me because Uncle Bruce was a very imposing figure to me when I was a kid. He had a deep booming voice and a no-nonsense approach to child rearing, largely because he and Aunt Shirley faced the daunting task of raising very rambunctious boys who were close in age; a mission that required every ounce of their parenting skills. Uncle Bruce knew how to keep a lid on things and it was no place for 21st century parenting unless you wanted the inmates running the asylum.

Uncle Bruce was also the first of my three Sutherland uncles to join the RCMP in the late 40s. He weaved some pretty incredible stories about his life in the police force that spanned many towns in Alberta with frequent transfers in the job description. He rarely wore a gun during his career because he believed that he could handle a situation without the need for a firearm.

Two of my uncles were involved in the search for Robert Raymond Cook, with Uncle Bruce directly involved in the mass murderer’s arrest after a lengthy manhunt. Both uncles (Keith and Bruce) were not happy with the book about Cook that posed doubts about his guilt. They had first-hand knowledge about the killer’s real lifestyle and deeply resented the author’s portrayal of Cook and the RCMP in the book.

The gypsy life of an RCMP member in the 50s and 60s meant that two of my uncles were posted in Red Deer during their careers. In fact Uncle Bruce retired as a Staff Sergeant Major here in Red Deer during the early 70s.

I can recall an incident in 1970 when Uncle Bruce used the company car to drop us off at Prairie Creek for an afternoon of fishing while he went to the Rocky detachment on business. He was in uniform and every kid that saw us riding in the car flashed us a peace sign in what could only be described as a tribute to the last movie scene in ‘Billy Jack’.

Uncles occupy a special place in our lives. They remind us of our own fathers in a subtle kind of way because of the family link that binds them to our dads. We see the similarities and are grateful to have that link after we lose our fathers. Uncle Bruce will be missed by all of us in the family for that reason and many other reasons. The man truly was an unlikely rock star in our family.

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