Like me, he was the youngest of the siblings. Like me, he was the black sheep. I don't remember a time when I didn't have a crush on Uncle Stan. Long legs in jeans, cowboy boots, mustache just clearing the corners of his mouth. Must have been six feet, more. In my imagination, Uncle Stan is a giant.
I was pouring drinks for a guy the other night, and he told me about his boss. He said his boss was like Steve Jobs, he carried around with him a reality distortion field. And if you were in range, you'd fall right in, you believed anything he said.
Uncle Stan had a reality distortion field. Though his range might have been smaller than Steve Jobs', it was no less potent for those in its path.
I remember Uncle Stan's trailer parked out front of our house. The little door in the back, the two rickety steps up, Stan's mobile bachelor pad. He smelled like cigarettes and occasionally alcohol, although I didn't know it at the time. I only knew his breath was thrillingly scandalous in a culture that neither drank nor smoked.
But about that distortion field: Stan had a scheme, an idea. Uncle Stan always had a scheme. Rumors of having been a bounty hunter. He had a ceramic duck in his trailer. Uncle Stan with the ceramic duck in his hands, he lifts the head, and it's a lid! The ceramic duck is a soup tureen! Uncle Stan described a restaurant with hundreds of these ceramic ducks, the old ladies would go nuts for them. A theme restaurant, all about home cooking, country cuisine.
I believed in Uncle Stan's restaurant, with the ceramic ducks. I believed in Uncle Stan. Married seven times, I think. Twice to the same woman. The distortion field worked on them as well. For a while.
Uncle Stan, why do I love you so? I never lost that six-year-old hero worship, born when you helped us rescue the baby jackrabbit after our cat ate its mother. The jackrabbit died, but it wasn't your fault. You'd moved on.
I love you even after you got Grandpa to sign the ranch over to you. After you let it fall into mud, after you sold it to a stranger who presumably took possession after you died. I love you in that heartsick way when I hear about the ranch turned to mud and ruin. The ranch where my mom grew up, before you. The ranch that made my summers summer, where I picked corn and strawberries, where I crept into the henhouse and slid my hand under the fluff of a hen for the warm egg. Where my brothers killed rattlesnakes, coming home like heroes, rattler corpses hanging on sticks.
Ranch of my heart, my paper plate art on the wall in the men's bunkhouse, Reader's Digests from the '40's in the rock house, the fire and Grandpa worrying a toothpick, his head tremoring lightly.
The last time I saw Stan, he sat in front of the fire like Grandpa, his long legs extended to absorb the warmth. A toothpick worrying his mouth.
There's nothing left of the ranch, my brothers warn me not to even go there, it's too depressing. Nothing left, they say. Not even Grandpa's hybrid corn stalks, growing black and blue and red kernels for festive popcorn.
After Grandma and Grandpa died, Stan went missing. His ex-wife stopped by, worried she hadn't heard from him. She found his body on the property, a bullet in his head. There were whispers of suicide, even murder, but the inquest found it was an accident. He'd rested his shotgun against the fence when climbing over, it fell, it went off. He should have known better.
Uncle Stan's Vietnam buddies threw him a wake. They made him a wreath of barbed wire and sunflowers. Sunflowers, like the ones that grew above my head, nodding down at me as I ran through the fields at the ranch.