By Lyn Burnstine
I grew up with a plethora of uncles. On my mother's side, I had four half-uncles, two of whom I never knew since they lived far away on the west coast, and two half-uncles-in-law (my half-aunts' husbands). Have I lost you yet?
I was very close to the Illinois uncle who lived the nearest: in fact, he lived with us once for a few weeks and we eagerly awaited the Kansas uncle's visits, also.
My grandmother, their step-mother, had finished raising those two youngest ones and they loved her dearly. On my father's side there was one uncle-in-law and five uncles, who all looked just like my father. One had died as a young man, but the others I knew because they lived nearby.
Most of the socializing we did was with relatives: dinners back and forth from one home to another and reunions every summer at a park or churchyard.
But there was one whom I adored, unrelated but connected by something as strong as blood-ties.
My mother had grown up with few neighbors in her little rural community. She was so much younger than her step-brothers who left home while she was still a youngster. Fortunately just up the road a piece - as my grandmother would have said - was a handsome, charming couple with three little girls.
The youngest was named for my mother, so I assume she was born after the two families became close friends. The four girls were inseparable. Time went by, people grew up and scattered but Aunt Mame and Uncle Elvis moved into town, and so did my parents, my sister and I.
We must have gone to see them frequently, because often in my dreams I find myself walking on their street sure that I'll recognize their house when I see it, and knowing that it would be a safe haven from something that was threatening me in the dream.
But my most vivid memory comes from a time, a few years later, when I was envying my sister her flute and ability to play in the band. Our dinky school had no band activities for elementary-level students so I would not be eligible until I got to high school (I snuck in a few toots on my sister's flute when she wasn't around, though).
One day when we were visiting back in Flora from where we'd moved to follow my father's renewed teaching career, Uncle Elvis offered me a wooden piccolo and training in how to play it. It was the first time I had realized that this tall, kindly man, whom I picture always in a fedora and long overcoat towering over us all, was anything but my beloved Uncle Elvis: he was also the local band teacher!
I was thrilled and learned quickly; I already was a good pianist and a crackerjack sight reader. (I always said I could play something the first time as well as I'd ever play it again.)
I practiced for hours every day till my pinkies got used to the curled position and stopped cramping painfully. And that little wooden piccolo had the sweetest tone of any I ever played, bar none. Joy of joy, that very fall the high school band teacher instituted a training band in the seventh and eighth grades, and I got to play the piccolo as well as a wooden flute loaned to me.
Uncle Elvis became a hero in my eyes; sweet, little dumpling-faced Aunt Mame remained a shadowy figure in my memories. The connections lasted through my early-married years when their oldest daughter was living in the same town in Mississippi as my husband and I, and she and her unconventional husband became our friends and first babysitters.
Vesta, whom I always thought of as the vestal virgin since she was single till 49 had married Harry, a former rodeo clown and outrageous adventurer. What a strange mating that was.
In much more recent years, I was looking through old pictures and found one of Uncle Elvis and Aunt Mame as young newlyweds and was amazed at how gorgeous they were - her cute and tiny, him tall, dark-haired and full-lipped like the other Elvis.
There must have been lots of little girls who had crushes on that young Elvis, their band teacher but he was my Uncle Elvis.
EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.