Friday, August 26, 2016

Elegy for My Cyclist Uncle Wyman

Wyman Black in Sedgwick, Maine, summer of 1959



On this date in 1959, my only uncle died.

I never met him, since I wasn't born until the late 1960's.

He was killed on a rural road in beautiful coastal Maine, on the Blue Hill Peninsula, as his motorcycle rounded a curve and lost traction on some gravel.  His bike crashed into the shrubs, trees, and brush lining the narrow roadway.  He wasn't wearing a helmet.

His name was Wyman Black, and he was my mother's younger - and only - brother.  Her only sibling, in fact.  He would be 74 now; retired, ostensibly, with who knows what kind of family.

Or maybe not.  Maybe he would have died earlier from some other tragic turn of events.  Who knows?  Maybe he would have gone into the military and been killed in Vietnam, for instance.  The guessing games about what he might have become turn pointless pretty quickly.  He died when he did, and speculating about all the "what if's" is a hollow exercise at best.

When I was born, Mom and Dad gave me his first name as my middle name.  For a while, when I was younger, and the thought that one day I'd get married and have kids was still within the realm of possibility (pity the poor wife, though, whomever that would have been!), I imagined I'd repeat the honor with my firstborn son.  If I had one.

Again, the supposing could have gone in how many different directions!  What if we'd only had girls?

Wymanette?  Wymanella?  Wymanene?

My uncle died doing something he truly enjoyed - riding a motorcycle.  How many people get to die while doing something they truly enjoy?  Granted, my uncle probably was fully aware that he was crashing, and the pain he likely felt just before he died almost certainly wasn't enjoyable at all.  But his death was relatively quick, and as utterly lovely as summer days usually are in Maine, transitioning from there to Heaven must have been a version of going "from glory to glory," as the saying goes!

Plus, my Uncle Wyman died being well-loved by his family, and well-liked by everybody who knew him in their tight-knit community on the peninsula.  How many people die without enemies, or people who can't stand them?  Lol... I'm not sure I can claim to not know people who can't stand being around me!

He died without any baggage.  He was a professing Christ-follower, so when his life ceased here on Earth, it resumed in perfect fullness in Heaven.  His family was not wealthy by any stretch of the Western imagination, but my Mom, my uncle, their parents, and their grandparents never knew starvation or homelessness.  They had to share a lot, and make do with bare minimums, and learn how to find the brighter side of many dark circumstances, but all things considered, theirs was a remarkably functional and nurturing family, considering all they had to do without.

The motorcycle my uncle crashed wasn't his personal property; it belonged to a friend of his.  I'm not sure how that all worked out insurance-wise, in the aftermath of reclaiming a vehicle on which somebody else has died.  For her part, Mom made sure that my brother and I knew full-well that we were never to ride a motorcycle, at least while she is alive.

I've never asked my brother if he's ever ridden a motorcycle.  Actually, he's into planes and helicopters, but those are far safer vehicles than motorcycles.  I've never ridden a motorcycle, but not just because of how my uncle died.  Frankly, I'm not all that excited about putting my keister on a leather pillow just above a gasoline-powered engine.  The optics of the many ways such a juxtaposition - of fleshy anatomy and internal combustion components - could go awry seem unworthy of whatever pleasures one derives from cycling.

Would my uncle have survived his accident if he was wearing a helmet?  Again, that's a tough question to answer, since nobody saw the wreck, or how his body reacted to it.  Besides, were motorcycle helmets back then as well-engineered as they are today?  And maybe it wasn't his damaged brain that killed him, but a damaged spinal cord, or some other internal organ.  No autopsy was performed, since no foul play was involved.

For what it's worth, however, I suspect that wearing a helmet helps give motorcyclists an important measure of safety, and whenever I see a motorcyclist not wearing one, I think about my uncle, and let some of those "what if's" waft through my brain.

But that's not all I do whenever I'm driving about, and see motorcyclists on city streets or a freeway.  I also tend to take extra care and give them lots of space.

After all, the person riding it may be somebody else's uncle or aunt.

It's kinda my own little memorial to my late Uncle Wyman.


1 comment:

  1. 1) I recognize that smile from someone else's face... ;-)
    2) I think your hypothetical daughter(s) should have had the same middle name of Wyman as it is. She could tell people it was like the actress Jane Wyman. Or just that it was a family name, like a dear female friend of mine whose middle name is Logan. Or yours truly whose middle name is Alexander, not " 'dra", because it's a family name. And the rest of the world copes.

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