I come from a matriarchal family. We are strong women. Fierce women. Often, we are loud women. We are benevolent rulers of our familial kingdom. Tight hugs. Loud laughs. The men of my family are typically quiet (with the exception of my Uncle Burl, who loves to tell a good story, long, loud, and full of dramatic pauses and grand gestures). But mostly introverted. Soft spoken. Perhaps one begats the other? Maybe the men, outnumbered, learned long ago that they would have to fight too hard to be heard, so they save their breath? Perhaps. This image of my Uncle Vaun was taken just weeks before he began chemotherapy over the summer and lost all of his hair. I haven’t seen him in some months, so he continues to look just like this in my mind. With his poet’s heart and soft, gentle voice. Once, after a loud and boisterous gathering with my extended family in western Colorado, Chris said to me, “Wow. Everyone really loves your Uncle Vaun, don’t they?” I thought about it for a second. “Yeah, I guess they do.” I had never really thought about it before. Never really considered the dynamics of my sprawling family in regards to my quiet uncle. But he was right. There is a fierce and tender devotion to Vaun which is universally held. A family hero worship of sorts. He has never been the jolly, playful uncle who gave piggy back rides and pulled nickels from behind ears, nothing like that. He is a veteran. Quiet. An artist whose work is strange and a little scary… bright technicolor squarish forms with three eyes. Six armed angular men in front of geometric shapes and vast outer space. He is a musician. Playing the vibraphone in his garage. Tall and lean. Bent over the bars with two mallets in each hand. Transported into another world when he plays. Coaxing unearthly sounds we have never heard before from the long, metal keys. When I was a little girl, I spent a great deal of time at his house with my cousins. He and my aunt got me to and from symphony rehearsals when my mother worked. Picked me up from school when my cousin and I would miss the bus. I logged in many hours sitting in the back cargo hold of their light blue bronco, playing games with my cousins. Looking for Volkswagen bugs, slugging each other on the arm and keeping meticulous track of who had seen and claimed the most. They would go out to eat once a year. It was a special occasion. Every year they would go out to breakfast on New Years Day, and every year, I was invited to join them. Upon my high school graduation, then my college graduation, then landing a job teaching music and art, then the birth of my children… each milestone event in my life, he would always make a special effort to tell me he was proud of me. Sincerely and succinctly, in his soft and gentle voice. “I’m proud of you, Sweetheart.” Nothing florid and lavish, nothing over the top. Simple. Quiet. Real. After a few years of raising a child with autism, an out of the blue short phone call. “You’re doing such a great job. I’m proud of you, Sweetheart.” That’s all. Five minutes at the most. There was no need for more. He has never been a man of many words, but the words he uses are the right ones. He never has trouble telling you that you are important. That you are loved. This photo is precious to me. It tells so much about him. He has no shields, he does not pretend. He is unguarded, unsheltered. He does not hide. This is the way he loves us all, too. Without reservations. Simply. Quietly. Chris was right. We do love him. We are fierce, and we are tender, and we love him down in the hollows of our bones. If you called any one of my far flung cousins on the phone today and asked them how they felt about their Uncle Vaun, they would weep. We’re weepers, my tribe of loud laughing women. And we love him. Sweet God in heaven. We love him.