As Dave Barry says, “You can only be young once. But you can always be immature.” That is probably not the best way to describe a good way to grow up, but it sure explained my Uncle Itch. His real name is Herman, but to me he’ll always be Uncle Itch (short for Uncle H). Itch being that he was always there to tickle your funny bone through pratfalls, silly voices or crazy tales. Uncle Itch is our family storyteller. He always has a tale to share and never tells it the same way twice. I always looked forward to a visit from Uncle Itch.
Herman grew up with two older sisters who were very serious in their upbringing and tried to make sure that he did his best to be responsible and thoughtful. They were pretty successful in getting him to be both responsible and thoughtful. Well there was that one time he left the door to the basement open by mistake and my 15-month old cousin took a tumble; and the first time he was invited to my aunt’s house for dinner after she got married, he did manage to knock over her crystal wedding glasses and break them, but at least he was a thoughtful caring person. As he grew older, he did become more and more responsible. It helped that he became a teacher after college. Responsibility was pretty much part of the job. He knew when to be serious, but also there was and still a piece of kid in him that makes him unique.
When I was about 8 years old I had to stay for a week at Uncle Itch’s house while my parent’s went on a vacation. It was then that I was introduced to all of his crazy stories. He had collections of tapes of storytellers that he would play at night when I went to sleep. My parents would never have allowed that. I even got to hear him tell a few stories himself. My parents would read to me, but Uncle Itch, he told. The stories he shared were great. One of my favorites was a story by Jay O’Callahan, “The Little Dragon”. When my parents came back from their trip I shared the story with them and my sisters. To this day we still repeat all of the refrains from the Little Dragon.
One thing about Uncle Itch was that he always used different voices when he played with us. Sometimes he was a nice little old Jewish man, other times a rowdy pirate or a Russian immigrant. You never quite knew who he was going to be when he came to visit.
As he got older, he got married and had kids of his own (Little Itches). For a while he changed. I guess being married made him a little less crazy. I’m not sure if it was a change in him as a family man, or the change in me as I grew older. He didn’t seem to use as many voices; he wasn’t as loud and boisterous, or bump into any walls. He didn’t sing any of the songs he had when I was younger. Between the two of us, we didn’t find time to share as many stories. I had things to do, and so did he. He only came to visit on certain holidays. I sort of missed the old Uncle Itch.
I eventually got married myself. And as I had children of my own I began to see a bit of the old Uncle Itch again. I couldn’t wait until my kids were old enough to share some of Uncle Itch’s tales and songs. He may not be as crazy as he was when I was young. But he’s still Uncle Itch. I hope he never grows up.