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The whole family gathered in Rhode Island that summer. Some of us went unwillingly, including my immediate family, my grandpa, and my uncle. That was the summer of sand in my hair and countless afternoons spent biking along an enormously over-developed seaside landscape. I wove a mat out of seaweed fronds once just to see if it was possible. Rabbits had overtaken all of the beach house properties and I considered it my duty to feed them vegetable matter leftover from dinner.
I learned a lot about how complex my relatives are, watching the daily fights between people who should have divorced long ago, the strange "0 CALORIE!!!" foods that now occupied the fridge, which beaches they chose to visit, the distinct Italian traits that still rang in their lives. All of my cousins but for one are boys, so I remained my tomboyish self throughout.

There were two cottages and seventeen people. They were on the same road, about a block away from each other. One was a squat ranch, where my aunt and my family and my two young adult cousins slept. The other held the remaining nine people.

My uncle, with his dreamy personality and misty eyes, is my favorite of the relatives. He is an English teacher and coach at a high school in Connecticut, a runner, and the best salsa-maker on earth. No salsa is better than my Uncle Chris'. He has no Spanish roots and no training in making it... salsa-making is simply one of his gifts. He cleverly blends not only the typical tomato products and cilantro that one expects in salsa, but he adds various interesting herbs, spices, vegetables, and fruits. Carrot, celery, black bean, rosemary, and pear salsas are just a few of his surprisingly good creations. The entire family would gather at the other cottage, armed with Tostidos Scoop style chips, and revel in the sheer delight of amazing salsa.

He led us children on many adventures that summer. Nonaggressive and charming, he won over almost anyone he met. He went running and read books and threw off a general aura of complete chillness. Under his gentle guidance, we learned many things, from where wild blackberries still grew to how to identify the best deal at Home Depot.

One morning I awoke to a foreboding, cloudy sky. I shrugged it off, setting out barefoot on my bike like I had been doing for all of my week-long stay. I liked to go to the beach before the other tourists arrived, watch the sun rise and the birds play, note the thousands of soft indentations in the dry sand that meant footprints, do wheelies in the parking lot that stretched on and on. When I reached the beach, after setting a flock of seagulls flying along the way, I climbed up into the life-guard's chair and leaned back, squinting into the deep pink sky. Boats drifted, buoys floated, a tide-breaker made of rocks extended out into the water. Suddenly, it began to rain. I glanced up lazily and watched the drops descend from the sky, allowing myself to gradually get soaked. Eventually I decided to bike back, the angry sky now rumbling with distant thunder and assaulting me with a downpour. It remained that way all day.

That afternoon, around 1:30, the storm reached us. Angry thunder boomed frighteningly in the sky, and lightning strikes made the world go white for a couple seconds as they struck a nearby water tower. Marooned in our cottages, a cousin flicked on the T.V.. We watched an extremely flustered and overexcited weatherman ramble on crazily about how Providence and surrounding counties had an extreme storm warning. We were soon laughing hysterically, until the loudest bang I have ever heard went off right next to us. Everyone swore or screamed, and my ears rang. I was repeating something along the lines of "Holy shit!", when the phone rang. The adults, isolated in the other cottage and now concerned for our safety, were sending over our uncle to protect us.

He brought salsa makings and a ton of rain water. Soon, everyone was involved. The world crashed outside, unleashing turmoil to all but us. We listened to terrible music, cut up tomatoes, experimented with herbs. The salsa was avocado-mango, and I have to say it was the best I have ever had of all the good salsas my Uncle Chris introduced me to. We laughed at the weatherman and listened to the storm in awe. I had salsa for lunch that day.

My Uncle Chris knew how to comfort and protect us kids even though he had none of his own. He used his salsa-making talents to brighten our day. Witty, kind, dreamy, shy, and understanding, he has been a positive influence on my life.





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