I got my own copy of Funnyball in the mail today, and was I ever excited to find the punctuation error in the introduction. Those of you who like to collect memorabilia with goof-ups had better hurry: I'll be correcting that one in the next 24 hours or so. I was so enthralled that I flipped through the book all the way to the funeral home tonight.
Oh, by the way, this post isn't going to be particularly baseball-related.
My uncle Jan was known as “Big Jan” because he'd passed on his proper name, January August May, to his son. It was a name I'd heard so often that it was no longer unusual or bizarre; it simply represented the jovial, round man with the thick Hoosier accent who punctuated my childhood memories.
Uncle Jan was an early adopter of technologies, so his house was always full of forward-thinking innovations, if not always fully functional ones. He was the first person I ever knew with a big screen television and a satellite dish. The satellite dish stretched up as tall as his tiny ranch house in rural Indiana and took as long as 10 minutes to change between feeds. Still, it meant that I could watch Smurfs twice in a row when I stayed for a visit in my early childhood.
Uncle Jan was an eclectic collector. His bedroom ceiling was filled with wind chimes. His cabinets were filled with fiber optics, holograms, and Van de Graaff machines. His driveway was filled with tiny cars like VW rabbits and AMC Pacers. His garage was filled with sheet metal, duct tape, and odds-and-ends that he picked up from people's houses where he installed heating and air conditioning systems. It was from these pieces that he assembled Pissbot, a robot that stood on his front lawn, repeating his own name to passers-by and displaying the strategically placed hose that earned him his name.
Uncle Jan was a lover of animals and plants. His little domicile was home to dogs, birds, guinea pigs, and whatever other creatures didn't have any other place to go. For a while, Uncle Jan would rove around his neighborhood at night planting apples in his neighbors' yards. During that phase, he liked to call himself “Janny Appleseed.”
Uncle Jan was a nontraditional thinker. He would carry around photos of forests or fields of wheat and, in all seriousness, point out to you where you could see the face of a fairy or the footsteps of a fleeing leprechaun. I so clearly remember when, after helping us evaluate the foundation of a house we were considering buying, he pulled out these photos and subjected the real estate agent to them. The fact that she didn't warily edge away won her my business loyalty.
Uncle Jan was a selfless philanthropist. He didn't just volunteer to carry his and his wife's families on his back, but people he just met on the street as well. His penchant for giving away labor and materials was what eventually drove his heating and air conditioning business under. Uncle Jan defined the phrase “generous to a fault.” And though just about every single thing he contributed to my young life turned bad in one way or another, it was impossible not to maintain an image of him as this generous oddball, an all-year Santa in a white tee of questionable cleanliness and yellow ruler suspenders.
As I sat tonight in the funeral home's chapel, I was struck by how odd the scene was. This was the man who took his family for massive kite-flying outings; would he have approved of his loved ones weeping to the tune of John Mayer?
But before we left, they played th B-52's, and all was as he would have had it.