My Uncle Jim told me all about chest hair and how to get it. This involved a diet of fresh fruit, as well as telling the truth whenever a lie was dangerously close to the tip of my tongue.
I spent a lot of time on my Uncle Jim and Auntie Donna’s farm. When you turn off the highway and onto the winding dirt road that leads up to their property, it’s as if the rest of the world ceases to exist. Their little house on the hill looks out over a serene pasture that seems to go on forever. It’s a place that makes you feel in touch with the world and, at the same time, untouchable.
Uncle Jim’s blood does not run through my veins, yet I managed to inherit a thing or two from his example. Surely he got angry and raised his voice from time to time, but I never saw it happen. So whenever I’m on the verge of a tantrum, I lower my voice to his gentle hush. When I open a door, it’s ladies first. And I always have time for a smile. He also introduced me to toothpicks, blackjack, and best of all, curling.
Curling is a time honoured tradition in Canada. It’s a sport that requires precision, power, and patience — three P words that apply to Canadians almost as much as poutine. One player slides a granite rock down a sheet of ice while two sweepers accompany the moving rock, brushing its path with a broom. Points are accumulated depending on the number of rocks closest to the target.
When a rock lands perfectly on target, much of the glory is bestowed upon the player who threw it. While it takes a great deal of skill to properly throw a rock, it’s the sweepers who ultimately guide it toward its final resting place. Sweepers not only help the rock move faster, but straighter as well. This prevents it from veering away from its destination. “Hurry!” you’ll hear when a rock is thrown poorly. “Hurry hard!” This signals the sweepers to sweep the ice more vigorously.
They only time I ever saw my Uncle Jim shout was in the curling rink. I’d sit in the bleachers and watch him play while Auntie Donna sat next to me and explained the rules. Every now and then I’d hear him bellow on the other side of the glass, “Hurrrrrrrrrrry! Hurry haaaaaaaaaaard!” At only 5 or 6 years old, it was startling to see the man I knew to be so gentle become so animated.
“He’s not mad,” Auntie Donna would say in a reassuring tone. “He just doesn’t like to lose.”
After years of wondering what it would be like to play the game myself, I finally summoned the nerve to join a league. On Wednesday nights, I slipped on a gripper and picked up a broom. Thanks to my days as a figure skater, I had the power. I worked on the precision. And the others on my team definitely had the patience.
It feels good to be part of a team. Even though I rarely made my early shots, my teammates never acted as though I was letting them down. “That’s just not the spirit of curling,” they would say. “That’s just not the spirit of Canadians,” I would think. So no matter how misguided my rocks may have been, they hurried hard to keep them in the game. And I was more than happy to return the favour. Perhaps it was this camaraderie that attracted Uncle Jim to the sport. I wish I could have played a game with him to find out, but he sadly passed away before I had the chance.
I knew my uncle the same way any young boy knows an uncle, which is to say, not at all. I can’t even remember a single conversation that we might have had. Yet he keeps turning up when I least expect it. When Auntie Donna’s eyes drift to a cherished memory, he’s there. When I reach for an apple instead of a cookie, he’s there. And when I throw a rock down the ice, something tells me he’s right there with me, guiding the path toward my destination. The same way he always did.
If you don’t believe me, I’ll show you my chest hair.