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Wayne Nordhagen

July 4, 2008
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There’s supposed to be a parade today in Randolph, Vermont. Thirty years ago I marched in a version of it with my teammates, all of us in our green caps and baggy green and gray baseball uniforms. There were floats and brass bands and gleaming fancy antique cars whose horns went aroooga. There were many people lining the streets, practically everyone in the town.

But it’s a small town; you can hear individual voices saying “Yay!” The guy up on stilts, dressed as Uncle Sam, will be someone you know, maybe even an actual uncle.

***

Yesterday in Randolph hundreds gathered to grieve for Brooke Bennett. Family members, friends, and clergy members took turns speaking to the crowd. One of the speakers was the man who replaced my first little league coach when my first little league coach’s son got too old for little league.

I keep running into my past in this story. Yesterday, articles about Brooke Bennett included quotes from her seventh grade math teacher, who was my seventh grade math teacher in 1979. Today I read what my second little league coach, Reverend Ron Rilling, pastor at Green Mountain Chapel, said to the crowd in Randolph yesterday.

“We gather together as a community to affirm that love is more powerful that hate,” he said, “that faith and hope are better chosen than fear and despair.”

***

Yesterday an online message board linked to this site, to my story about the son of my first little league coach. The message board thread was entitled “Another angle on the Uncle Pervert story.”

Uncle Pervert.

I guess this is one reason why there are national news vans clogging up the narrow streets and dirt roads of Randolph. The apparent author of the hideous act is a relation. An uncle. We like to believe this is unthinkable.

My wife, a social worker, works with teenagers whose extremely difficult pasts often include being victimized by sexual assault. The majority of these crimes are committed by people within, not outside, the boundaries of the family.

***

“I remember when I was 13 years old, I went to Spring Training with my uncle Wayne Nordhagen, who played for the Cubs. Just being on the field and being around the guys in the locker room, it gives you so much when you’re a kid.” – Kevin Millar

Kevin Millar’s uncle shares a birthday with Uncle Sam. He’s sixty today. That’s a little younger than the youngest of my five uncles. I thank Wayne Nordhagen for being a good uncle to Kevin Millar, because Millar’s fond words about his uncle have suggested to me a way to try to follow the advice offered yesterday in Randolph by my second little league coach.

Love is more powerful. 

Like Kevin Millar, I grew up with uncles who gave me a lot. My uncles took me to baseball games. My uncles made me laugh. My uncles taught me useless, marvelous skills, such as how to pass a finger through the burning flame of a candle and how to build the perfect plate of bagel and lox and how to body-surf in the Atlantic Ocean. My uncles provided me places to stay when I seemed to have overstayed my welcome everywhere else. My uncles provided and provide to me a host of examples of how to be a good person. My uncles have always helped make me feel that I was loved, that I had a place in this world, a permanent seat at the table. A safe haven.

I know today is supposed to be about Uncle Sam and detonating small explosives, and that there’s another holiday set aside for giving thanks. But this Fourth of July I’m saying a prayer of gratitude and love to my own uncles and all the good uncles of the world.

11 comments

  1. 1.  FYI: There have been some interesting recent comments on older posts: Doug Bird (Royals), Dan Quisenberry (Royals), Champ Summers (Reds), and Skip Jutze (Mariners).


  2. 2.  I should give a tip of the hat to all of my uncles. They’ve all passed on.

    But Uncles Melvin, Lester, and John! Here’s to you!

    I did my avuncular duty yesterday advising my 11-year old nephew on trades to make in his fantasy baseball league. He’s quite savvy. He’s already thought of making a 3-team trade. He researches the other teams to see who they need and then comes up with options for people to trade.

    He’s turning into something of a geek like his uncle.

    He quit playing Little League because he knew that he wasn’t going to be a good baseball player, so he just follows everything else about the sport. And has taken up the oboe.

    Sniff…. I’m so proud of him. Not that I could play an oboe.


  3. 3.  This past Christmas I gave my nephew a monster box filled with about 3,000 cards from the 1990s. He’s actually a pretty good athlete who is getting into card collecting. My hope is to be the good uncle who teaches him about both card collecting and stats beyond W-L record and ERA.


  4. 4.  I love it when I’m called Uncle Phil. Never a Dad but damn proud to be a good Uncle many times over.


  5. 5.  Great, I won $18 from my uncle in a poker game tonight. Now I feel like a jerk.


  6. 6.  I am an uncle, but not sure how much my nephew gets from me. On the contrary, he does take the time to try to keep me up to date on what is “happening”, something my daughter never bothers to do (I am a lost cause). Its not only an age thing, as I live outside the country and really have little clue in what’s going on. He tapes things (that must be the wrong word) and shows me stuff like the Shield, the Wire and Family Guy, when I am in town. Otherwise I’d be completely Xeifrank.


  7. 7.  awesome.


  8. 8.  I spent the fourth chasing my one year old nephew around and around, throwing balls here and there and just generally experiencing things.

    I think about him growing up in a world where things like the Bennett story happen, and my soul shivers.


  9. 9.  I’m enjoying hearing the reports from uncle-hood. I’m a new uncle myself, and it’s a pretty sweet deal. Most of the time it’s fun and laughter, and if anyone starts crying, you just shovel ‘em over to mom or dad.


  10. 10.  I’m an uncle in NY with nieces and nephews in TX and AR. A lot of times I wish I were closer, particularly now that some of my nephews are of little league age.

    And just to show how much this blog has crept into my brain, I immediately thought of you Josh when I heard the news from Randolph. I also wondered what the mood would be like when we would be making our annual visit to Montpelier/Calais, with our usual sojurn to Lenny’s in Barre. But our time there has been delayed by six weeks, since a tree fell on our usual camp rental.


  11. 11.  Josh, you did an incredible job of tying everything together (Fourth of July, Nordhagen, Millar, your uncles, the terrible events in Vermont, and something to feel positive and grateful about at a time of tragedy).



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