The Uncle

Every Spring, my Uncle Henry* re-paints his gnomes. He plucks the little bearded men from the garden and takes them to his garage to get a new coat of enamel. This is a slow process. Each coat must dry before the next is added. The gnomes live in the garage for several weeks while they wait for completion. They enjoy a break from the frosty weather, though they report missing the wildlife.

My Uncle Henry is not a real “related” Uncle, he is an assumed uncle. My father has been the best of friends with Henry for 42 years. They met as teenagers at a church in New Westminster called Connaught Heights Pentecostal Assembly. The church still stands, on the crest of the hill with a neon pink cross on the spire.

My Uncle Henry is a man of many talents. He is a landscaper, an auto mechanic, a plumber, a woodworker, an electrician, a father and a “fantastic husband”, according to my Auntie Gretta*. After twenty-seven years of marriage they still enjoy each other’s company, and French kiss on a regular basis.

Uncle Henry spends a lot of time in his garage. He comes inside to make himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which he has enjoyed daily for the past twenty-one years. He credits the peanuts with making him “heart-healthy”, before anyone knew that peanuts could do that.

I followed Uncle Henry into the garage on sunny afternoon, to watch as he began the gnome refurbishing process. He reached up into a well-worn cupboard and pulled down an old mayonnaise jar. In it were about ten hackneyed brushes, the bristles were fanned out and hard, no longer willing to pick up paint and move it. He selected a gnome from the shelf: Reese*. He was the lucky one: his overalls would be changing from a red made pink by the sun to an aqua blue. Uncle Henry held up the tiny can of enamel, “Does it look like jean?” I shook my head no, but he didn’t seem to notice.

Henry pulled up a stool and sat in front of the gnome. “Let’s get you painted up”, he said quietly, awaiting a response that would never come. Henry’s daughter, my “cousin” Peaches* joined us in the garage. She had a beach towel wrapped around her waist, over her bathing suit. She placed a can of Diet Pepsi beside Reese. Uncle Henry grunted his “thanks” and readjusted himself on the stool.

Peaches watched as her father sanded off the peeling pink paint. His eyebrows were furrowed, and a bead of sweat stood stranded on his temple. Peaches picked a wedgie from her rear end, and then rolled her eyes. “Why are you watching him do this?” She didn’t wait for my answer, and I didn’t have one to give. Her pink, plastic thongs made a squeaking sound as she schlepped back outside. Uncle Henry stared straight ahead into Reese’s eyes. Neither of them blinked.

* Names have been changed.

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