My dad’s uncle, my great-uncle Frank was one of the coolest people I have ever met. He was my grandpa’s brother. He never married, lived alone in a trailer behind the Post Office in a small town of 368 people. Most of those townspeople were related to me in some way or another. We always would joke that before dating a boy from there, you needed to do a family tree and make sure it wasn’t your cousin.
Uncle Frank was a quiet soul, soft spoken, but always liked to visit with my mom and dad. We had a cabin on a lake near where my parents were raised and the town my uncle lived. So we saw him just about every weekend we went up to the cabin. I remember we would drive into town, down main street to the cafe on the corner. It was called the Boston Cafe because the owner, Hannah, had been to a garage sale and found a globe shape sign that lit up with the Boston Cafe written on it. She proudly displayed that sign on the corner of the cafe for all to see.
The Boston Cafe was the place to go for great home cooking and baked goods. Hannah made everything in the morning and it was always fresh and delicious. At noon the town’s siren would sound and people would gather at the Boston to eat lunch, rest a bit and catch up on all the latest news. It was a small place with about 8 booths and a few counter stools and sometimes could get pretty crowded. But no one was ever turned away. People would just scoot over and crowd into the booths.
We usually would pull into town right after the supper hour on Friday evening when it was pretty quiet at the Boston. My dad would look to see if my uncle Frank’s hat was hanging on the hook near the booth he always sat in. If it was, he'd run in and let Uncle Frank know we were out at the cabin for the weekend. He’d hop in his VW van and would follow us out to the cabin. There my mom would put on the coffee and set out some coffee cake or dessert and they would sit and visit. Eventually, my mom would go to bed. I can remember lying in bed at night listening to the waves from the lake hitting the rocks on the shoreline, maybe hearing a lonesome loon crying out, and my dad and uncle Frank quietly visiting into the wee hours of the night. The next morning I would wake up and uncle Frank would be
gone, but back again for supper and more late night visiting with my dad. I often wonder what they talked about for hours at a time.
My uncle Frank was a great outdoorsman and hunter. He and my dad spent many times together hunting grouse, quail and pheasant. My brothers who were older than me often times they got to go hunting with them. They’d come back exhausted and happy. I was always told I was too little to go. I wanted to go so bad and see what the big deal was about hunting with my dad and Uncle Frank.
Finally, one year when I was about 12, I was camping up North with my parents and Uncle Frank met us at the campsite. We were pretty far into the wilderness, away from everything. We were pulled over on an old logging road and were camping. It was near a river so I was happy I could go fishing whenever I wanted. My only glimpse of a fish that time was the one that jumped in the air and caught my lure in its mouth and bit the line.
One morning, my dad and Uncle Frank were getting ready to head out hunting and my uncle Frank asked if I wanted to go. I can’t even describe the excitement I was feeling that I finally got to go with them. I got ready and off we went, my dad and Uncle Frank walking and quietly talking while they circled and zig-zagged every which way into the brush, bramble and thick Northern Minnesota woods. It seemed like forever I was following them, paying some attention to the directions we were headed, but trusting they knew where they were going and how to get back out of the woods. It seemed like forever that I was following along, but eventually they stopped for a bit. That day, I don’t think much hunting was happening between them, they were more enjoying a walk in the woods and good conversation with each other.
After a long walk into the woods, Uncle Frank said it was time to go home and it was my job to get us back to the camper. He turned to me and said,”Find your way home.” He looked at my dad and I saw a little twinkle in his eye and he just nodded. I started walking, not too confident I knew
where I was going as we had zigged and zagged so much getting to where we were currently. But I found our boot prints, and some broken bent branches and just kept walking with all the confidence of a little lost puppy sniffing its way back to its mama. To my disbelief and surprise soon I was staring at the camper through the woods. My uncle Frank just smiled and walked past me back to the camper. My dad gave me a proud smile and followed uncle Frank. I ran to catch up to them, still amazed I found my way.
To this day, 50 years later, I often think about that day, finding my way home to the camper. It was sort of a rite of passage into no longer being a little kid. I was led somewhere not familiar, somewhere new and told to find my way home. I struggled, I tripped on logs and fell, but I managed. I often wonder if uncle Frank and my dad had planned that life lesson or it just happened naturally. I won’t ever know for sure as they both have been gone from this life a long time. But the other day while talking to my 85 year old aunt, she told me a similar story of hunting with uncle Frank. I had to smile.
Over the years, I have often thought back to that time in the wilderness. I didn’t know where I was, I had no compass or GPS to get me home. But I had my dad and my uncle Frank walking behind me ready to help guide me if needed, but never once did they interfere with the life lesson that was unfolding. That day I was shown my internal compass, the one that has guided me out of the wilderness and back home so many times in life. I was taught to trust in the walk, the journey will always get me back home if I just trust that internal compass.