Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Misadventures of Uncle Norm

They say lightning never strikes twice.  Maybe that explains why my Uncle Norm's been struck four times.  There was the first time, when he was 18, bailing hay in a field, and it burned right through his work gloves.  There was the time, just after putting his youngest daughter in the car, when it launched him into the air across a parking lot.  There was the time on his boat when his friends saw it arch between him, the boat, and the water.  And, finally, there was the time in his garage/workshop, when he didn't take his boots off for several hours, convinced that they had been scorched and were no longer there.  Needless to say, no one in our family will go out on the water with him if there is the slightest chance of poor weather (fortunately it was all clear skies the day I caught my first walleye on his boat.  I can still hear the thunk his mallet made on the top of the fish's head when I reeled it in after Santiago-esque battle).

You sometimes hear fantastic stories of super-human feats, especially in the realm of survival.  If there is one thing that the outside world would say of Uncle Norm, it is that he is a survivor (among many other, more incredible things).  Once while deer hunting in tree blind, he fell while climbing down, breaking his back in three places.  For many, this would be a death sentence - his friends were all back at camp and he had gone out for another go at tagging a trophy.  Yet, impossibly, Uncle Norm managed to crawl the mile back to his truck and get to his friends.  The doctors said he was lucky to be alive and would probably never walk again.  I've never seen him in a wheelchair.  There was also the time when a tree fell on one of his friend's legs.  Uncle Norm lifted the tree off his friend, and carried him to the car.  Later, four men could not move the tree.  

The last Christmas I spent with Uncle Norm and my family in Michigan, about ten years ago, I noticed the large scar on Norm's thumb, and asked what happened.  He nonchalantly explained how he had nearly sliced his thumb off while hunting.  The story got much more interesting when he explained that this happened while wrestling a buck.  Being a runner I have become fascinated by the idea of persistence hunting.  My uncle, who probably never ran more than half a mile at a go his whole life, had lived this dream, in a way: he had shot a buck, which proceeded to jump over a log and collapse.  Uncle Norm gave it a few minutes before going to examine.  As he straddled the tree, the buck picked its head up and started at Norm.  Uncle Norm describes the next several moments of his life as a flurry of deer spit, antlers, sweat and adrenaline, before he was able to unsheathe his hunting knife from his leg, and slit the deer's throat (and his thumb in the process).  As he lay on the ground with the deer on top of him, its blood and his own covering him, he heard another deer running through the forest - sent to avenge its brother.  It took him a minute to realize this was actually just his heart thumping in his chest.  The only thing that made this story better was the fact that moments later Uncle Norm would scoop an enormous portion of wasabi, thinking it was guacamole, onto a tortilla chip.  I swear, just like in cartoons, there was smoke coming out of his ears!

Sadly, Uncle Norm, my mom's baby brother, died this morning.  The man who had more lives than a cat, and lived each one of them full of nature, family, friends, and hard-work, spent his last days valiantly battling cancer.  When he was diagnosed, with stage-four lung cancer (he never smoked) his first doctor told him he had a few weeks to live.  That was almost two years ago.  Two years filled with trips, farming, hunting, spear-fishing, boating, the birth of grand-kids, and, typical for Uncle Norm, practical jokes.  

May all our lives be filled with the sort of moments that make us laugh and give us joy.  May all our lives be filled with misadventures like Uncle Norm.  

Smiling to the last - Uncle Norm enjoying a banana split a couple of weeks ago

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like he lived a full and exciting life. Thanks for sharing Josh and sorry for your loss.