Uncle Daddy

Ralph Fletcher

Henry Holt and Co.

Uncle Daddy and I are out hiking through the woods. We’re surrounded by pine trees so dense the forest seems almost gloomy. But a bit farther the path opens into a sunny little meadow. We have to stop a minute, blinking, letting our eyes get used to the light. He notices something and stops to look at some wild-flowers.
“Trillium,” he says, and picks one.
A little farther he bends down again.
“These are jack-in-the-pulpit.”
Back home Uncle Daddy takes a book down from a shelf in his room. It’s a humongous dictionary, the kind you might see in a library. This monster must weigh at least twenty pounds. It’s a foot thick, and it’s got two thousand and twenty-three pages in it. Those last twenty-three pages really kill me. I mean, they could’ve just called it quits at an even two thousand. But no! They just had to give you those extra twenty-three pages, as if you didn’t already have more words than any one person could possibly use.
Uncle Daddy opens the dictionary. He flips through the pages until he finds jack-in-the-pulpit . He puts the jack-in-the-pulpit blossom into the book, right next to the word. Then he finds the word trillium and tucks the yellow blossom into the book, right next to that word.
“Trillium,” I say. “That sounds more like a song than a flower.”
“Or a radioactive element,” Uncle Daddy says, smiling.

I was in first grade the first time I saw Uncle Daddy open the big book. That day he put a salt-water taffy wrapper (he had just taken me to visit a candy factory) next to the word taffy.
“Why are you doing that?” I asked him.
“I’m going to use this dictionary like a memory book,” he explained. “Someday, when you’re all grown up, you’ll open this book to look up a word and you’ll find this stuff.”
Since then I’ve seen him do the same thing a hundred times. After we go to the circus, he puts one of the ticket stubs next to the word circus. A bright autumn leaf goes in the M’s, next to the word maple. In the past few years he’s saved so much stuff in that dictionary that it’s pretty lumpy. Now he closes the huge book, hoists it up, and puts it back on the shelf.
“Someday you’ll open this book and all these little things will remind you of all the fun we’ve had together.” He smiles at me. “And you’ll remember me.”
As if I could forget him.
Copyright © 2001 by Ralph Fletcher All rights reserved.