Can you call a man your uncle if he died before you were born? Well, I was never quite sure about that, but with Uncle Eddie, I called him my uncle anyway, probably because that is what my grandmother always called him whenever she spoke to me about him. He was her son, and my mother's brother.
When I was a child I heard a lot of stories about Uncle Eddie and I remember poring through countless photographs of him with my grandmother. Most of them were photos taken of him in the Navy, or of his travels when he stopped at different ports around the world. When he got out of the Navy, he bought a gas station with my grandfather, which was also a service station. Eddie was particularly fond of cars and in the boxes and photo albums my grandmother showed me, there were photos of him standing in front of the car he owned, as well as ones he didn't but wished he had. He seemed like a character and appeared to enjoy posing for the camera. Luckily, he was very photogenic.
Whenever I spent weekends at my grandparents' house when I was a child, we went to visit Uncle Eddie's gravesite on Sunday mornings after breakfast. I could never keep quiet at the cemetery and asked questions like, "I thought we were coming to visit Uncle Eddie, where is he?" and, "How can he breathe if he's under the ground?" Although my grandfather was not as patient, my grandmother would quietly shush me away and tell me to take a little walk... as long as I walked between the stones and, as she put it, "didn't step on any of the dead people."
I heard about Uncle Eddie all the time growing up. Everyone said he was such a nice guy, friendly, someone everybody liked. But tragically, in August of 1957, the night before his 25th birthday, he was killed in an automobile accident on his way home from celebrating with friends. He was close to home, just up the road from his house (my grandparents' house), on the main road into town. I cannot imagine how utterly devastating the news must have been to my grandparents and my mother, a teenager at the time, when they got the phone call in the middle of the night. They probably had birthday presents wrapped and ready to give him the next day, gifts he would never see.
The entire time they owned the house, they kept his room the same as it had been when he was alive. My grandparents lived in that house until 1976, when they sold it and moved to Florida. I was twelve. My family was crushed when they decided to move so far away, but we kept in close contact with them through letters, telephone calls, and visits whenever possible. One of their last visits to see us before my grandfather passed away was in the early 1980's, when I was in college.
One bright sunny afternoon I was driving home after classes. I was particularly happy because my grandparents had come from Florida that day to visit and I knew they would be at our house by the time I got home. I was heading down the main road into town when a car suddenly screeched out of a parking lot on my side of the road and headed toward me in the opposite lane. As best as I could guess from the look of it, the car was from the 1950's. As the car passed me in the opposite lane, I was startled to see that the driver was leaning out the window toward me and glaring at me as if to get my attention. He was not very old, yet his hair was greased back in 1950's style. Everything seemed so quiet and so gray... the car was gray, and the driver, from what I could see, seemed to be in black and white. It was so real, and yet... so unreal. He definitely caught my attention. There was something very strange about what had just happened.
Immediately after he passed me, I looked in my rearview mirror to see the car but it was gone. And yet, there wasn't time or opportunity enough for it to have disappeared from my view. Then I physically turned my head around to look behind me and still did not see the car. It was as if it had just vanished into thin air. I questioned what I had experienced and for quite a while I tried to figure out who or what I had seen that day. Then it dawned on me. The road I was driving on was the same road where Uncle Eddie had died nearly thirty years earlier. And that day was the day when his parents, my grandparents, were back in town. The timing could not have been more perfect. That was Uncle Eddie I saw.
Years later I met with a psychic for a reading. She knew nothing of my family history. She told me that whenever I drove, there was "someone" in the back seat who drove with me to protect me. Someone who had died in a car accident, she said. Funny... I found it comforting, because I knew exactly who it was. Uncle Eddie.