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Uncle James L. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


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As I stand in the kitchen, early on a Saturday morning, and pour myself a bowl of Peanut Butter Crunch, I barely notice the ominous footsteps hiking up the cellar stairs. Before I can turn toward the fridge, I jump, as usual, when I hear a low, raspy voice mumble “Good mornin’.” I let out a deep sigh of relief when I realize the phantom creeping up is only Uncle Jim looking for a little breakfast. While he putters around the kitchen and pops an English muffin into the toaster, I laugh quietly that after 17 years I still get startled when he appears out of thin air like some sort of magician.

Uncle Jim lives in a ­furnished room in our basement. Among the washer, dryer, several rundown bicycles, and box upon box of stuff my parents cannot bear to part with, he finds a home. He works in the maintenance department at an office Monday through Friday, and has for the past 25 years.

Uncle Jim’s other routine is weekly ­bingo at the Knights of Columbus Friday nights, no exceptions, with the rest of his gambling companions. Surprisingly, he has the best luck of anyone in my family and is thoroughly disappointed with anything less than a $100 profit for a night. He also has an ear for anything Elvis, a wicked sweet tooth, and like many other uncles, knows the best birthday present to give: old-fashioned money in a card.

Yet unlike most uncles, Uncle Jim ­experienced hydrocephalus at birth, otherwise known as “water on the brain.” This can lead to mental disability, convulsions, or progressive enlargement of the skull. My uncle’s case included all of these, which he has coped with for 66 years. Although my uncle’s symptoms are not the most severe, the ridicule and torment he endured in his early years was harsh.

Let’s face facts: people with disabilities are treated differently. As I was growing up, my parents simply would not tolerate us tossing around words like “retarded” or “gay.” Now that I am beginning my journey toward independence, I realize that using these, as well as other hurtful terms, is inconsiderate and inappropriate. I strongly believe that living with my uncle, in ­conjunction with my parents’ teachings, has sculpted me into a thoughtful and ­unprejudiced person.

Uncle Jim may have challenges, but there is nothing wrong with his generous heart or charismatic sense of humor. My family and I feel extremely blessed to have someone so special in our lives. He inspires me to live a simple, carefree life, as he does. I’ll never forget the way I was raised and will continue to strengthen my acceptance of diversity in college and beyond.

As I sit comfortably with my feet up, ­cereal bowl in hand, I ask, “How was bingo last night?” and give Uncle Jim a chance to brag.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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Joy P. said...
Jun. 29, 2009 at 11:37 pm:
This is a great story. I myself have learning disabilities and this story just makes me wants to do my best. This story almost made me cry. God Bless!
 
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