While I was growing up, my uncle Lige was traipsin the world. In one year, he traveled to five continents. In between his travels, he’d swing by our house for a quick visit bringing my brother and me coins, paper money and small souviners from the places he’d been. He grew up in a tiny town in southeastern Kentucky and traipsed out of the mountains right after high school.
Lige was the type who saw the entire world as home, although he kept his belongings in his apartment in Manhattan. The first time we visited him in Greenwich Village was my first experience seeing a place quite different from where I lived in neat boundaries USA. I loved it. Standing with him in the front car of a subway so I could watch the tracks as we sped underground, I got a taste for traipsin myself.
Three summers ago, my husband, kids and I went to hang out at the beach with my brother on Fire Island, an island near Manhattan, for a couple of days. He was renting a house part-time in The Pines, a place my uncle had loved. While we were there, I thought about my uncle’s influence. Without him, I might never have taken that first trip to Europe–or joined the Peace Corps. My kids might not be growing up to be the traipsin type themselves.
When I talked with my mother earlier today, she told me today was my uncle’s birthday (February 22–George Washington’s birthday). It seemed fitting to pay a tribute to the person who is most responsible for putting that first suitcase in my hand and for the fullness of my passport pages.
**Unfortunately, my uncle was killed several years ago, ironically, the day after Lincoln’s birthday, while he was traveling in Mexico. Uncle Lige would be pleased that I haven’t broken my stride. The book Welcome to Fire Island chronicles the development of gay culture in Cherry Grove and The Pines. My uncle is on the cover.