Friday, 17 January 2014

Uncle Adam

I was sitting with my Dad when he was dying, talking about family and relations, when the topic of his brother, my Uncle Adam, came up. He talked about him in glowing terms, and then I asked about my Uncle Adam's time in prison. My Dad's response was "Why do you have to bring that up?"

My Dad wanted to admire his older brother; he did admire his older brother. It's one of the oddities in my Dad's life, that he would admire the scoundrel who was his older brother, forgiving a great many wrongs and putting him up on a pedestal, revering his memory of his brother rather than seeing the reality of his behaviour. My Dad wanted to remember the parts of his brother he loved, and forget the parts which caused him to feel shame.

My Uncle Adam could best be described as a "character". Born in 1925, five years ahead of his younger brother, my Dad, he was much like his own father, my grandfather, a bit of a scrapper, the right guy to have with you in a fight, except if you were his little brother. My Dad once told me that his older brother's nickname for him was "Dick the Shit".

In 1940, at the age of 15, my Uncle Adam lied about his age, enlisted in the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, and went to war. His initial posting was to England, where he was to remain until the Italian campaign began in 1943. He talked about being in Italy but in truth I am uncertain as to where he served. My Uncle Adam was one of the prime advocates of the McBride family motto, "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story." So at times I repeat the stories he told, scarce believing them myself.

I do know he was a courier for the army in France after the D-Day invasion. One of his great stories was of changing the gaskets out on the Indian motorcycles they used for courier work, using paper instead. This way they could get higher compression and greater speeds. The unfortunate side effect was that on occasion the paper gaskets would burst into flames on the edge, causing the rider to have to hold one hand on the bars while swatting away incandescence with the other, all while hurtling down a dirt road at now uncertain speeds.

In 1945, when my Uncle Adam came back from Europe, I am told he had changed. These days we would say he suffered from PTSD. Back then he just had trouble fitting in, a trouble that lasted most of his life. There were brushes with the law, his propensity to steal cars when he needed them ever an issue, and the perpetual family issue with booze. Most of his misadventures started with the line, "We were sitting around having a few beers..." Yet he lived a full life and was very kind to my children whenever he saw them.

Who knows what makes a man the way he is? The trauma of war, the horrors of an abusive, alcoholic father, the struggle with fitting in to "normal" society; all of these and more made my Uncle Adam who he was. And my father loved him.


  1. A brother is still a brother, and a sister is still a sister, connected by blood, and sometimes love.