Wayne NordhagenJuly 4, 2008
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.”
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.