One of my best childhood memories involves me lying in a borrowed bed, listening to voices echo through the heat vents – my dad, mom, Uncle Chuck and Aunt Pat visiting in the kitchen. Dad and Uncle Chuck would be sitting at the table drinking coffee (with an everlit cigarette in my Dad’s right hand,) while Aunt Pat made breakfast for the multitudes and my Mom fussed over something or another.

We’d slowly wake up, run downstairs, and there’d be a breakfast feast laid out before us – nothing fancy mind you, but plenty of scrambled eggs, sausage and or bacon, sometimes pancakes or French toast, and always plenty of toast ready to be spread with the “last jar” of huckleberry jam from my aunt Ellen out west.

Those mornings were followed by a day of playing outside, while the grownups played hand after hand of pinochle. Every once in a while they’d switch over to a game we could all join in like “May I” – a game which, if the rules are followed, is a polite game in which one asks for cards (hence the name.) My family turns this into a cutthroat game of “He with the longest and fastest arms, wins!”

Later we’d all go out for dinner – usually to the only Chinese place on “da range” – the Dragon something in Virginia or Hibbing. The meal always ended the same, with my dad and Uncle Chuck arguing over whose turn it was to pick up the tab. They both insisted it was their own turn, but I noticed that neither one of them ever reached for his own wallet …

When I got older I was included in the card playing and drinking – as were my best bud’s Louis and Elwood. My Aunt and Uncle opened their house to us all – and anyone you invited into the circle became part of their extended family. I don’t think I ever told them that the last conversation I had with Elwood before he passed was about the good times we had up on “da range.”

It’s unfortunate that my family – Susan, Katie, and Carrie, never got to know the dynamic, smiling, and just plain fun guy that Uncle Chuck was. I am glad, though, that they were able to head up to the range for a recent Thanksgiving dinner. It seems that all the best times I remember at the Massie house revolve around the kitchen – and our last visit was no exception. We were lucky, Uncle Chuck was doing well, able to joke, enjoy dinner, and even play a few hands … things that defined him for me, and now for my family as well.

This week I lost my Uncle Chuck. He was my “Last Uncle Standing” – so here ends an era. I started life with 8 uncles – each of whom had an impact on the man I grew up to be. Uncle Tony taught me how to enjoy the simple things, Uncle Fritz how to appreciate the life my parents could afford for me, even Uncle Joe had an impact – although I’m not sure it was positive. Of them all though, Uncle Chuck might have had the biggest impact – from him I learned that opening one’s door to the world is the best way to have the world in your life.

So in the best family tradition, I raise my glass high – here’s to my Uncle Chuck!