I shaved my beard recently. Not all the way, just enough to where it looks like I forgot to shave for a couple days. Don Johnson five o’ clock shadow? No, more like Dom Deluise 5 o’clock shadow. Or maybe Peter Deluise five o’clock shadow if I’m lucky. Anyways, I needed a change and felt the need to rid my face of extra hair for a bit. Sitting, staring into the computer screen as I browse nothing worth browsing I see my reflection as the morning sun lights my pasty face and the face I see looking back at me is my uncle Chuck. This does not bode well for me. This makes me feel like starting from scratch. Go full Mr. Potato Head and plug in new features all together. Maybe change my name to Spud, Dom, or Peter.
Charles Hubner is an interesting character. He’s my dad’s older brother. Born in 1941, he was the supposed golden boy my grandma would constantly ramble on about even though he hadn’t lived in the country, let alone any sort of familial warmth proximity since before Kennedy took a long, dark drive in Dallas. My dad, William, was born in 1946 and was the younger son of Elwood and Dorothy Hubner. He was the more affable son; he made model airplanes, worked odd jobs since he was 11-years old, liked to draw, read MAD Magazine, and was a Boy Scout. As a kid my dad loved cars, as did my grandpa Hubner. Grandpa had his own Chevy dealership in Lagrange, Indiana in the early 50s and would often bring cars home from the lot. My dad was driving by the time he was 12. He had several traffic tickets as well, before he was even legally allowed to drive.
Anyways, back to Chuck.
Chuck wasn’t the kind of older brother that instilled wisdom on his younger sibling. Chuck didn’t instill much of anything on his younger sibling except disdain, indifference, and occasionally even contempt. Chuck was a follower, not an idea person. He was the puppet of those he hung out with. If his pals were the small town hooligans driving around at night throwing rotten tomatoes at mail boxes, other cars, and pedestrians then that’s what Chuck was. If his buddies were poindexters studying for exams and going to formal dances with pretty girls in poodle skirts then that’s what Chuck was. Most of the time, Chuck was with the former and not the latter.
He was a bump on a log that could morph like a salamander to his surroundings.
By the time my uncle Chuck graduated he’d enlisted into the Air Force and had vanished into what would amount to 20 years in the USAF. The last time my dad would spend any significant amount of time with his older brother was at the age of 13. Significant does not mean quality time, in case you were wondering. Chuck ended up being stationed in Athens, Greece. This is where he met his future wife Effie. Much like the hooligan friends, drill sergeants in basic training, and anyone else that spoke to him in enlightened tones, Chuck found the perfect match for him in Effie. She was a spitfire and an authoritative young Greek woman who gladly took the reigns and steered Chuck where he needed to be. As I said earlier, Chuck was a follower. A toy soldier that just needed to be wound up and set in whichever direction you wanted him to go.
Chuck and Effie had a condo in Athens, as well as a house on an island that floated in the Mediterranean Sea. They created a son together, Christopher George, but Chuck didn’t spend much time at home. Between the Air Force and then working for Litton in Saudi Arabia, he spent the 80s and part of the 90s in barracks in the middle of the desert. I think this probably worked out great for Effie, as she raised their son as she saw fit and Chuck kept them on the wealthier side of things. It worked out great for Chuck as well. He continued a life of being told when to get up, when to go to sleep, when to shit, and when to eat. Minimal thinking on your own, just like the military. Except now he was getting paid well.
So if Chuck was a non-existent familial entity how did I know him? Well I met Chuck four times in my life. The first time I was still a toddler. I was a squishy, curly-haired 3-year old with bright red cheeks squirming around a trailer in diapers. No, I don’t remember that first introduction. There are polaroids in my parents photo collection that show me sitting on a couch next to Chuck as he held a can of Strohs between his legs. Slicked back and thinning hair, light blue sweater with a collared shirt underneath, dress slacks, and Buddy Holly glasses, it was this odd pairing of the human species. Chuck looked as Chuck would always look; indifferent, mild-mannered, and somewhat inebriated.
The next time I met Chuck was in the 80s. I was maybe 7 or 8. He came to the states from Saudi Arabia to visit again, this time because my grandpa was sick. He had open heart surgery and Chuck decided he’d make an appearance. This visit was pretty similar to the first one, only this time I wasn’t in diapers and Oshkosh B’Gosh. My grandpa pulled thru surgery-wise, and Chuck was here for a week or so staying at my granparents home on Walnut Street in Nappanee, IN. One night after the stress of surgery was over Chuck came to the house and as per usual delved into the Strohs. My dad and Chuck played pool in the basement, having little to no conversation. That was Chuck’s personality; inebriated silence. Most people after a few beers tend to lighten up a bit, and even laugh and talk about life. Not Chuck. He was quiet sober, and even quieter drunk. I’ve talked to my dad about Chuck over the years and I know that he wanted to connect with his older brother somehow. I can only imagine that was one of those times.
The last time I saw Chuck was in the mid-90s when he and Effie came for a visit to see my grandma. It was an odd, stunted visit. Grandma walked with a certain pep in her step, having her oldest and most distinguished son visiting with his “exotic” Greek wife. My dad tried not to let it bother him, her gushing on about the son that was never around, but I know it did bother him a little.
While Chuck lived the life of Riley in the Arabian desert and the Mediterranean, my dad was here in Indiana taking care of home repairs, bills, and generally being a good son to my grandma. He was the one taking her to doctor visits, birthday dinners, and grocery shopping. My dad would go over to my grandma’s every Thursday after work to mow her lawn, help her read her mail(her eyesight was failing her by her mid-to-late 70s), and sitting with her sharing a glass of scotch and smoking a cigarette(my dad wasn’t a smoker, but would occasionally smoke a More 100 with Dorothy.) He did these things not because he liked it, but he felt an obligation. I don’t know if my grandma ever truly appreciated what my dad did for her, and what Chuck never did for her.
So it goes.
Eventually my uncle Chuck and Effie built a house in Tampa, Florida and I suppose retired there. My cousin Christopher George lived in the house for a few years while Chuck and Effie remained in Greece. Not sure if the financial crisis in Greece caused them to jump ship or what, but they landed in Florida like most retirees and settled there. My dad would get occasional emails from Chuck. Very generic and little to no personality(just like real-life Chuck.) They were mostly “Hi. How are you? I am fine” sort of messages with inappropriate or extremely political jokes attached. My dad would try to engage with Chuck, but you’d have more luck engaging with a plastered wall, or a rutabaga. While my grandma was still alive Chuck would send similar letters to her via snail mail. My dad would often find the same inappropriate and politically-charged jokes in envelopes stamped FLA on her kitchen table next to the ashtray. Fortunately grandma couldn’t see the contents of said letters, so my dad would edit for content when reading them back.
My dad comes over almost every Saturday morning and we have coffee and talk about whatever. At the end of these mornings dad uses my laptop and checks his emails. It used to be he’d look for work and 401K stuff, and to see if his older brother was reaching out. Chuck would sporadically send emails. Some were more personal than others, but always with this sense of emotional distance. I mean, like I said the last time there was any significant connection between them was when dad was 13-years old, in 1959. Still, dad would try. It would take Chuck sometimes three months to reply to an email. My aunt Effie passed away back in May of 2018, and the emails have pretty much become non-existent.
Kind of like Chuck.
Seeing me looking back at myself looking like Chuck was disconcerting at first. But I know I’m not him, but I do sort of look like him. That’s heredity I suppose. And DNA. And hair lines and the family forehead, too. Despite his shortcomings and lack of connection I still find Chuck an interesting character. He has a Facebook page, which has only one picture of him(one of those creepy webcam selfies that old people and serial killers take), and the pages he “likes” are things like ‘USA Patriots For Donald Trump’, ‘100 Percent FED Up’, ‘Breitbart’, ‘God Family Country’, and ‘Conservative News Today’. I see this grizzled looking old man and I think to myself “How am I related to him?” “How can this guy be my dad’s brother?”
It’s so odd. He’s seemingly lived a pretty crazy and amazing life. The air force, stationed in Greece, lived for years in Saudi Arabia, and retired to Greece then Florida. It sounds like there could’ve been adventures in there. How did he end up a lump of an old man in a Tampa house getting his news from Breitbart and Russian bots? It’s sad to me, really.
I take solace in knowing my brother and I never ended up like my dad and Chuck. We don’t see each other all that much, even though we live a mere 5-minute walk from one another. But my brother was a good big brother to me. He played with me when I was an annoying little kid. He’d dish me out more ice cream than I should’ve had when it was time for dessert. He got my teenage head buzzing with speed metal and talked me into taking guitar lessons. He took me to my first two concerts and bought me beer when I wasn’t legally able to do so. He’d quote Monty Python and treat me and my friends like we were pretty cool(even when we obviously weren’t.) We took guitar lessons together and he’d drive us there every week. He asked me to be his Best Man at his wedding and we headbanged to “Head Like A Hole” at the reception. When we were both adults he’d come over and we’d play The Need For Speed on the Playstation and drink beers till 2am. He was the first person to tell me congratulations when my oldest was born, and we shared a beer in the driveway at midnight to celebrate.
I wish my dad could’ve had that sort of relationship with his brother, but it didn’t work out that way. So he made sure(along with my mom) to raise two boys that respected and cared for each other. We grew up in a house that felt like a home. A place you liked, no loved, to be in. My dad took away from his lack of brotherly love a need to make sure that love existed between his sons.
I guess in that respect, Chuck did do something for my dad.