Uncle Jack and a Good Four Years of College

Well it’s actually four and a half, but who cares.

One Sunday evening I was walking around the suburb area when I saw a house. The house was small, albeit a neat one, unlike many others in the area. I looked at my piece of paper again: 30 Salisbury Street. Oh, this must be Uncle Jack’s.  Uncle Jack is, quite clearly, my uncle. He went abroad when I was still three and I can’t remember his face, but I’ve heard quite a lot of things about him back in my hometown. They say he is a smart man, a professor at some university. He was an engineer once, but having a problem for obeying orders from his superiors, he resigned and decided that he would be better off being a professor. One thing, though, they say he’s an absent-minded professor.

Having found what I’ve been looking for, I walked to the doorstep and knocked the door. I knocked again several times yet no one answered. I was going to knock for the ninth time when suddenly a deep voice replied.

“What do you want?” said the man, harshly.

“Uh, I’m looking for Uncle Jack,” I answered.

“And who are you?”

“I’m his nephew.”

“Really?” The door opened. “I didn’t expect you to come tonight. Your dad said you’d come on Saturday. Come on in, it’s freezing outside,” he said. I came inside and judging by the plethora of books scattered on his table, I supposed he was deep in his study when I came knocking at his doorstep. The inside of the house was far messier than it looks on the outside. “Were you busy?” I asked.

“A bit, there will be a conference I have to attend tomorrow. Please, make yourself comfortable.” He cleared the books off the table and went to a room.

He opened a fridge. “Scotch?” his indistinct voice heard through the corridor. “No, thanks, Uncle, I won’t be long,” said I.

“It’s been decades since I last saw my nephews back home, you know,” he mumbled as he brought four bottles of pale ale. Suddenly, he stopped, stared at me and frowned for a moment. “Ah! I remember you. Look at you now, son! The last time I saw you, you were still a toddler—a calm one, I must say.” He laughed cheerfully. “You’re in your early twenties now, I presume?”

“Yes, uh, twenty-three to be exact.”

“So you’re in college now, eh? How is it?” He picked his bottle of ale and drank.

“I’ve just graduated recently, that’s why—”

“How on Earth could your Dad not tell me that!” he interrupted.

“Uh, I guess he told you already, Uncle,” I replied.

“Really? Oh, how age has got the best of my memory! I’m a bad uncle, you know.” he said, jokingly. “I remember all the equations, the papers, the theories, but I always fail to memorize any updates on my nephews back home. Now, now, tell me about your final exam—and for Pete’s sake, don’t let the beer evaporate!” We laughed. He seemed to be in a good humour tonight.

“Not the most entertaining moment of my life to be honest,” I jested. We laughed again.

“It shouldn’t be! Mine was treacherous, you know. I couldn’t sleep the night before my final exam, and I came to the room with my eyes—ah, sorry, it’s supposed to be your story. Continue, lad.” He drank his ale again.

“Uh, I was told it’s not good to study too hard the night before final exam, so I just slept all the way through the night. I woke up feeling good and said ‘God help me ace this.’ When I entered the room I felt a bit light-headed and then time flew so fast the next thing I know it’s finished already. I was stunned, really, realizing I’ve finished my college years.”

“Yeah, yeah, that was proper stunning, you know, knowing that a stage in your life had ended.”

“It’s been a really good four years, Uncle. I’ve got lots of new friends, tons of new experiences.” I stopped for a moment. I felt like it was only yesterday when I first walk past the entrance gate. All of a sudden, my mind traveled back in time like a train with its whole set of carriages. First came the freshman year and all the football, then the second year and all the push-ups. Then came the third year with all its reckless foolishness, and finally the fourth year and all of its sleepless nights. “I think I’m going to miss those years.”

“Aye, college years are the finest. It’s almost thirty years now but I can still remember my college years clearly. I remember ‘em all, all those faces and all those laughter.” His face became serious; now his mind seemed to wander to a place once familiar. Then he broke the silence with his laughter, emptied his bottle, opened the remaining two, and offered me one. “Here’s to our finest years,” said he, and as we lifted the bottles we—as usual—contemplated life. “Cheers!” the bottles clanked against each other. “I always miss those years,” he went on, “especially when I see a familiar young face like you at the university. Just make sure you don’t lose contact with your friends, boy, because good friends suddenly turn to precious treasure once you lost them.”

“Hard to argue with that, Uncle. It’s been four months now and as the time goes by, so does my friends.” I felt a bit saddened by my own remark. There was silence for a moment, and then he chuckled. “Well, a man must live his own life, eh?” he said, rhetorically.

“Yeah, sure. It’s just a bit odd, you know, seeing all the strange new faces at my workplace now. They’re smart, of course, but for a bunch of friends I want the stupid ones.”

“It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them,” he said, a warm smile formed on his bearded jaw.

“Ah, Mark Twain!”

“No, son, uh, it was Emerson,” he replied. He’s a clever man indeed. I suddenly felt the need to check my watch and it was ten already. My flight was scheduled to depart at eleven, so I hurried to bid farewell.

“Uncle, I’ve—“

“Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend – or a meaningful day.”

“Uh, Mark Twain, now?”

“No, son, it was Dalai Lama!”

He said those words like I should’ve known it, like it was a common knowledge. I cannot comprehend this curious man. “You are able to recite it perfectly, yet you can’t remember your nephew have just graduated from college?” I asked, puzzled with his absent-mindedness.

“I told you already, I’m not a good uncle,” he said calmly as he laughed again. Sensing my dire anxiety to leave, he said, “Now, I’ve kept you for too long. When does your flight leave?”

“Uh, eleven, Uncle. I’m afraid it’s ten already.”

“Well, that means you’ve got to go now, the airport’s ten minutes’ drive from here. Just a sec, I’ll call you a cab.” He reached his phone and called the cab company. There was a heated argument about the size of the city and the quality assurance department, but in the end he just gave up arguing with a cab company. As soon as he hung up he muttered, “Five minutes, they said. This isn’t bloody Sydney for all I know, how can it takes five minutes to dispatch a cab? It’s pure inefficiency, I tell you. Ah, never mind, how’s your new job?”

“It was good, uh, I’ve got a lot to do, you know, but I’m learning fast. I’m just worried, though, that my life won’t be as exciting as my college years. I’m afraid it’s going to be dull and static.”

“Don’t be afraid, son, our country needs young men like you. Our country is growing fast and if she was to be a flourishing economy, she needs steel more than anything else. Keep that in mind. My generation put no emphasis in steelmaking industry so it only pleases me to hear that you—“

At this point I was almost furious with him. “I’m not in steelmaking industry, Uncle, what’s wrong with you?”

“Really? Oh, cow, I must’ve mixed things in my head. Ah, here’s your cab,” said he as we heard the sound of a car approaching. He then look at his wristwatch and yelled, “Three minutes and five seconds. They lied to me, they said it’d take five minutes!” I just frowned at him. He walked me outside and as we arrived at the pavement he said, “Goodbye, son, take care. Give my kind regards to your parents.”

“I will, Uncle.” As I finished putting my luggage inside the cab, I looked at this curious Uncle Jack and say goodbye. He shook my hand and spoke with a gentle voice, “Don’t be afraid, boy, your destiny will keep you warm.”


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