Tucker calls me "Uncle Bob" even though I'm not his uncle. That makes me proud. I'd be fine with "Bob," but he is a very respectful young man (good parenting, I imagine). He could certainly call me "Mr. Lynch," but that's too formal for our friendship—and I hate being called Mr. Lynch. I’ve got somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty nieces and nephews spread around the country, like hot asphalt on the Florida landscape, who fall into Tucker’s age group—twenty-something-ish. He is a good friend of all of them. Through them, he has taken to calling me his uncle.
Tucker is one of those people—and we all know some—who commands attention when he walks into a crowded room. It’s not a brash, look-at-me sort of thing. It’s an easy-going, natural thing. He’s the good-looking guy, with the easy charm, and the ready smile. Make’s the nieces swoon. He’s the all-inclusive guy who never met a stranger. Makes the nephews want to hang out with him. And he’s got an unashamed hug for all of the uncles, kisses for the aunts, and “I love you.”s for all. He fits in everywhere and leaves a trail of good feelings when he’s gone.
Tucker has lived with Cystic Fibrosis his entire life. He grew up with other kids who had the same disease. They were good friends. Going to the hospital for a “tune up” was just part of his routine. But I’ve never gotten the impression that CF defines him. He’ll talk about it if you ask, but the subject doesn’t often come up. Most times you just forget he’s got it. It’s invisible to the naked eye, and he doesn’t wear it on his sleeve. The cough that sneaks up and jumps forth has always been the heart-sinking give away to me. He gets it under control and moves on. No big deal.
The first time I met Tucker, he and my niece, Michelle were visiting us in Florida from their homes in Richmond, VA. Okay, they were visiting Michelle’s mom (my sister) Marianne. My wife Laura and I were a collateral visit. 13 hours and 45 minutes into their 14-hour drive Michelle called me. They had broken down on the highway, Tucker’s Jeep overheating. They were no more than five miles from my home in Palm Beach Gardens.
I grabbed a gallon of coolant from my garage (yes, I really had the stuff ready to go!), and hit the highway headed north. There they were, across ten lanes of traffic and road construction, on the shoulder of the southbound lane of I 95. I made the loop at the next exit and joined them. That’s where we met. With a steaming radiator, cars zipping, and tractor-trailers rumbling by at 65, 70, 80 miles per hour, Tucker was just as calm as could be. Now, I’m not saying he was happy about the situation. I’m sure he was calculating the repair cost, and how that would affect his weekend in Florida (which to a 21-year-old, means beer money), not to mention his drive home come Monday morning. But he was composed and accepting of the situation, nonetheless.
I told him that it looked like the thermostat was bad and he’d better go get it fixed right away. Michelle: “Okay, Uncle Bob.” Tucker: “Okay, Uncle Bob.” I sent them on their way with the remainder of the coolant. Half an hour later they called me from Marianne’s house. They’d made it there without taking care of the Jeep. Sheesh.
We got to see them over the weekend. Dinner, that sort of thing. “How’s the Jeep?” “Good.” “Get it fixed?” “Not yet.” Hmm. “Better get it fixed.” “Oh yeah.” “Cool.” “Cool.” They made it through the weekend with an occasional squirt of coolant and water to the radiator. Sunday night I got the phone call.
“Hey, Uncle Bob.” It was Michelle. “Um, we’re leaving in the morning and need to get the car checked.” Sheesh. “It’s Sunday night.” “Yeah.” “Yeah. Let me see what I can do.”
I knew the score. Between the two of them they’d had enough gas money left to make it to Richmond on fumes and a few well-placed prayers. It may be ancient history, but I was twenty-one at one time, myself. I called my nephew Chad, who lives nearby, and made some arrangements.
On Monday morning the operation took place in the street in front of my house. The stain in the asphalt is still there. Chad performed an expert thermostat transplant ($4.00) and flushed and replaced the coolant. Half-hour, start to finish. Tucker was all smiles. If you’ve ever seen Tucker smile, you know what a great sight it is to behold.
That weekend is what usually comes to mind when I think about Tucker. That’s when we became friends. I also think about him at one of our family reunions in California. Why not? He’s family. He fits in like family. He’s accepted as family. His hugs are real hugs. When he says, “I love you, Uncle Bob,” he means “I love you.”
I was in Hawaii years ago and spent a lot of time with a guy named Phillip Spalding III. Everyone called him P3. I was amazed that everywhere we went, everyone knew him. Everyone was so happy to see him. He took us to a luau on the Island of Molakai one night. The real thing; not the make believe show they put on at the resorts. It was a birthday party for a one-year-old baby, and it was held in the child’s grandparents’ yard. Hundreds of people from across the Island came to this thing. Well, you would have thought this luau was for P3. Throughout the evening, every person there came to say hello, get a hug, or sit and chat with him.
I was sitting in the back seat of his car when we drove away. The scenes of the evening were playing in my head like sweet hula music.
“Hey, Phillip,” I said. “It’s amazing to me that everyone on this island seems to love you.”
He looked up at me through the rearview mirror, wearing a knowing smile. “Oh yeah, they really do. Wanna know why?”
“Because I love them.”
It’s so simple. When I think about Tucker, P3 comes to mind. Tucker is our P3. Everyone loves him, because he genuinely loves us all.
Thank you for coming into our lives, Tuck. Breathe easy.