Uncle Zeeb always wore shirts 20 years out of style pressed as the day they were unwrapped from the packaging. Entering a room, Zeeb’s presence was announced in advance by the clop of perfectly polished shoes two sizes too large. His sculpted beard of red curls framed the warmest voice you’d ever heard, flowing and rolling out of the great barrel of his body to wrap a listener in an instant cocoon of calm. The one front tooth stained deep amber with a circular badge of nicotine served as a focal point while the thick lenses to either side of his wide nose might have allowed him to detect movement on the moon.
Zeeb ate his meals at the corner diner, telling stories to any who’d listen. Nothing better, he said, than an honest laugh to aid the digestion after a healthy helping of apple pie and a cold glass of milk.
According to those listeners, Zeeb’s stories could make children sit up and behave and grownups rip air in Church. Overhearing this particular account, Zeeb agreed: the Church part was true enough, as one particularly testy preacher might attest, but children behaving was pure bull cocky. Zeeb was a firm believer in the powerful train of a child’s mind, barreling forward with omnidirectional momentum, parents giving chase to make sure shoes got tied and crossing gates properly closed. According to bible of Zeeb, a child should be left to what it did best: face fearless possibilities and endless endings.
Adult listeners indulged Zeeb’s stories as humorous anecdotes strung together for fleeting belly laughs. Children, however, laughed sure enough but always interjected questions and directives to the storyteller that advanced the tale and caused Zeeb himself to burst with laughter, eyes streaming with the joy of redesigned purpose.
On Zeeb’s 70th birthday in the moments he blew out the inferno atop the cake, he felt the shortness of life for the very first time. In an instant, between the first candle’s sputtering expiration and the last tiny trail of smoke, he experienced the entirety of his life without any sense of time passing. Those who looked on saw an old man red in the face and running out of air, but Zeeb was vividly, vibrantly focused inward on the flickering screen where his life movie played. With the whiff of the final candle the lights came on, the movie ending, and Zeeb looked up, blinking and slightly dazed. Around him stood a circle of clapping and laughing friends, cheering an old man’s accomplishment in blowing out 70 candles. But for Zeeb, everything looked clear and fresh and purposeful, and he felt ready for act two.