evenings and bedtimes spent at my father's mother's house. Both of my parents worked the night shift at a local factory. My older brother, Jon, and I spent most of our evenings with Grandma Elliott and Uncle Moose, my father's mother and older brother.
My most vivid memories of those early years are set in autumn. The backyard full of maple trees supplied enough leaves for a gigantic pile of fun. My Uncle Moose would help me and my brother rake the leaves into an enormous mound. He would then joyfully honor our pleas to be tossed into the crinkly mountain of orange, yellow, and red. Against our grandmother's wishes, Uncle Moose would bury us in the leaves so that we could jump out and "scare" him. No matter how many times we repeated this trick, he always acted startled, often to the point of falling over.
When it was too wet or cold to play outside, Uncle Moose would romp around the house with us. Sometimes he would "fly us," whisking our tiny frames up above his head. At other times, he would be the "tickle monster," who found us in our hiding places, tickling until we couldn't breathe for laughing. On still other days he was the gentle giant making us tall, cold glasses of chocolate milk and reading stories. I still treasure the illustrated copy of Heidi he gave me for my eighth Christmas and the yellowed copy of Dickens' The Pickwick Papers, purchased for thirty cents in his boyhood.
One of the best things Uncle Moose ever taught me was how to operate the old sewing machine Grandma Elliott kept in the entryway. When Grandma wasn't paying attention, he crawled under the sewing table and instructed me in the fine art of running the foot pedal with my pudgy baby hands. Hours of enjoyment resulted, sitting on the floor, pushing the pedal and listening to the soft noise of the balance wheel and needle working in tandem.
He smelled of cigarette smoke and aftershave. His hands were rough from work and his voice was hoarse and low. Uncle Moose was an idol in my childish heart.