One of the last times I remember seeing Uncle Butch was in the late 1970s. His real name was Kenneth but the only time I can recall anyone using that name was when my grandmother had to get serious with him and, at which time, she would say "Ken!..."

Anyway, that time in the mid '70s came at the end of a weekend backpack trip with the scouts - Piedra Blanca I think, or maybe Lions Camp, both up near Ojai. Dad, as one of the drivers not also on the hike that weekend, had driven up from home to pick us up, and with him was Uncle Butch. It was a surprise to see him, but his greeting was the same as always - "How do, Michael?" I think he was about the only person, at the time, to call me Michael rather than Mike. Unless, of course, I was in trouble which, anyway, never happened. I was surprised to see him because a year or two earlier he and his family had moved to North Dakota. Now, suddenly, here he was. Not surprising was that he would show up at the trail head. Looking back, he and dad were quite close - owning their little boat together and hand-building their cabin near Estes Park in the Colorado Rockies. When they moved to California they bought houses and raised families two miles apart. If dad was pouring concrete in the back yard, Uncle Butch was there. When dad was temporarily laid-off from Lockheed, and before being called back, Uncle Butch helped him get a job at Hughes Aircraft.

The last time I can recall seeing my Uncle was probably the late '70s. We had gone down to El Centro to visit. The move to North Dakota had been a failure (I have my own theories about why) and he, my aunt, and younger cousin had returned to southern California, my older cousin remaining behind. He and my aunt may have been close to separating by then. That trip, believe it or not, remains after all these years, my only visit to Mexico where (Mexicali) Uncle Butch had started a manufacturing business. Mostly I remember the time because my uncle joked about the need to hide my brother in the trunk of the car when we recrossed the border (just in case they would not let him back in) ha, ha, ha, I thought. It was the last time I remember seeing him because he died before I could see him again, discovered in his office one Monday morning, victim of a heart attack.

dad (left) and Uncle Butch with their Patricia Marie, Denver

Every so often, out of the blue, something will set off a memory of someone, something, or some place from the past. In turn that will lead to other memories. I remember that after my Uncle and his family moved to North Dakota I used to head out on my bike on those earliest "long" rides (still in Jr. High School then) I am sure I have mentioned before. As proof that I once had a sentimental streak, those rides invariably took me past the house where I spent so much time with my cousins, my uncle, my aunt. Whether heading out, or on the return trip, I always made sure to turn onto their street and ride past, looking over to note what changes might have occurred since their move, in turn remembering Smokie's fierce, protective barking at strangers, Christmas mornings, summer afternoons...

As it did all those years ago, cycling today still brings up pleasant memories of the past.