We often lose sight of the person behind the camera. When we look at pictures later, we might forget that they were there. When we watch a home movie of ourselves as kids, doing something silly (like singing an incredibly long set of Beach Boys songs), we are focused on the same one that the camera sees, and not the person who kept us in focus. For many, it might be easy to forget, but for my family, the man behind the camera is usually unforgettable: Uncle Irvin.
Uncle Irvin is what happens when you combine a farm boy and Maxwell Smart. An incredible blend of down-home country charm and love, mixed with a love of gadgets, and topped off with a dob of goofiness.
One of my favorite times of year growing up was the annual Wiener Roast that Uncle Irvin and his sister, Aunt Maxine, would host at their farm. We would do all the usual fun stuff that you do at a farm. We would try to survive their “vicious” dog, Molly. We would swim in the corn. We were eager to decipher the clues for the scavenger hunts. (If you are thinking that a scavenger hunt isn’t a usual farm activity, well, that’s your loss.) We would go on hay rides, but my favorite part of the day was the tractor rides. Uncle Irvin would sit in the driver’s seat and us cousins (9 at the time!) would be packed in like sardines all around him, which was interesting because a tractor isn’t known for its smooth ride, so we bounced around the cab like pin balls. Our parents wondered why we were never in the same “seat” as we first started, but we never told them because we didn’t want them to stop the tractor rides. (I guess the truth is out now!) There was one seat that we always fought over in the tractor, Uncle Irvin’s knee. This seat had many advantages: your own personal shock absorber to handle the bouncing, a good view of the field, the occasional turning of the steering wheel (which also helped us all appreciate power steering when we got old enough), and of course the hand around the shoulder making sure that we were alright.
Uncle Irvin and Aunt Maxine left that farm, but thankfully we can visit it anytime in our memories thanks to the dozens of home movies that all of us cousins happen to star in. Uncle Irvin had one of the first home camcorders that weighed something like 40 lbs. I didn’t think about it at the time, but looking back I am amazed at his skills as he drove a tractor, corralled 9 kids crawling all around him (including a wiggly one on his lap), managed to record the experience, all while making each of us feel special. I guess it is a good thing we were only going 5 m.p.h. and would have had a quick recovery period (being so young) if any mishaps had occurred.
As technology improved, so did Uncle Irvin’s gadgets. He always seemed to have a new toy to show us, a new trick on the computer, or even a car that talked back to him, my introduction to On-Star. One thing that we can still count on and greatly appreciate are the computer made birthday cards from Aunt Maxine and Uncle Irvin, which have expanded to include graduations, weddings, and anniversaries as we have grown older. They have the postal system memorized so that we always seem to get it on our actual birthday or event, no matter where we live, except if our birthday is on a Sunday then we will of course get it on Saturday. These homemade cards are always a special treat. When I received my 19th b-day card from them I was eager to show Heather, my wife who was my girlfriend of 4 months at the time. I excitedly said, “This is the card that I have been telling you about, and in a few weeks we will get an invitation to the Wiener Roast, undoubtedly filled with pictures of previous Roasts!” We were not let down.
During the middle of my recent semester here at seminary, we received a strange packet containing a DVD entitled, “Justin Hasty in 2032.” Our curiosity could not have been greater. The DVD contained the elaborate beginnings of a “presidential bid” for our cousin Justin, and his running-mate, Uncle Irvin. Only he could articulate how about 25 people in the family, both immediate and extended, would serve as members of his cabinet, presidential campaign team, analysts, and even personal journalists. (His running narration over all the videos is one reason why we will never forget this man behind the camera.) For me it was exactly what I needed as I was 700 miles away from family and the middle of a grueling semester, a nudge back to some of the most important parts of life: the family we love, the gifts we share, and the memories we love.
Today in Wichita, they are celebrating Uncle Irvin’s “Almost 80” Surprise Birthday Party. Since my wife and I can’t be there, I thought I would honor him by narration through blog. There will be no ignoring or forgetting the man behind the curtain or the camera, the Great and Powerful Uncle Irvin. Pretty perfect for a country boy from Kansas.
Uncle Irvin is actually my grandmother’s brother, so he is technically my Great-Uncle Irvin, which come to think of it is what we should have called him all along.
Happy Almost 80th Birthday
Aaron & Heather