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The Kindness of Strangers: My Uncle Red

Updated on July 5, 2015

5 Easy Ways to Be Kind to a Stranger

  1. Say "hello."
  2. Introduce yourself.
  3. Start a casual conversation.
  4. Be helpful.
  5. Be polite.


A Chance Meeting

When I was two years old my mother, a teenager, met an older man on the bus. He played with me and took a liking to my mother who was very smart, kind and raised to respect her elders. Well this man took a liking to us and he became first my babysitter and her friend and then, a true uncle to us both.

He was an alcoholic vet who had served in the Korean War. He was very fair skin as he was half African American and half Native American. He kept a stoned faced picture of his mother sitting on his living room book shelf, her strong native features staring back at me every time I ate.

Uncle Red, as he came to be called, was from Pittsburgh and had once been a police officer but his drinking had finally pushed his wife and children almost completely out of his life. This led him to a retirement building off 5th and Spring and led to a heartbreak he was trying to soothe with a bottle.

Well, something happened when I was 5 years old that changed his life: his mother passed away. In a drunken stupor, he vowed to quit drinking. And he did. All my childhood memories of my uncle were ones where he was alcohol free.


Love, Freely Given


My uncle took care of me. He fed me. Bathed me. Clothed me. Taught me how to use a knife and fork. How to tie my shoes. How to play way, diominoes and poker. He talked me me for hours and hours and let me read his many copies of Reader's Digest. He cared for me in ways my young mother didn't know how because he imparted wisdom. All kinds of wisdom. I remember him giving me a bag of silver dollars and teaching me how to save money. How to budget and pay bills. Every time his building offered a senior trip somewhere, he took me. I remember trips to the Zoo and Sea World. When the new above ground tram to Long Beach opened, he and I packed lunches and went together. He had a girlfriend named Mary and she would play games and talk to me too.

He loved me and he loved my mother. He tried to help her in any way he could, often giving her money and lecturing her for hours. He knew she was so smart but couldn't figure out why she was crazy! And he didn't trust my father one lick. That pimp mentality, according to him, was never going to get him anywhere.

My Uncle Red was in my life consistently throughout my childhood. I remember a wall in the kitchen where he measured how tall I was getting. From 5 to 20 years old he would put me against that wall and make a little mark. He gave me pure love.


Book About the Kindness of Strangers

A Harsh Ending

When I was in college, my Uncle Red, who was a heavy smoker all his life found out his emphysema had turned to lung cancer. He started drinking a gallon of vodka a day. He had the DTs if he went too long between drinks and he was violent. He was a sad, pitiful shell of himself and he was dead within 4 years. Maybe less.


My Uncle gave me pure love and wisdom for no known reason. I got more of him than his own children. I got, I believe, the best of him.

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    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 2 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      An awesome story. You must miss your uncle very much.

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