Too Many Uncles


Tanya had an uncle problem. Her mom had brothers but no sisters. Her new dad had brothers but no sisters. She couldn’t remember her other dad, who had died when she was very young, but he had brothers and no sisters too.

There were Uncle Max, Uncle Al, and Uncle Ed. There were Uncle Gerry and Uncle Bob. There were Uncle Vince, Uncle Rick, and Uncle Tony. Not one of her uncles was married, so there were no aunts for Tanya to visit and no cousins for her to play with.

Tanya’s uncles always made a fuss over her. Uncle Max played football with Tanya, Uncle Al read her stories, and Uncle Ed made her carvings out of soap. Uncle Gerry helped Tanya with her schoolwork, and Uncle Bob helped her with her stamp collection. Uncle Vince sang with Tanya, Uncle Rick played his guitar, and Uncle Tony told Tanya jokes. It was never boring when her uncles were around.

At school concerts, Tanya’s mom and dad sat in the front seats. Next to them sat all her uncles. They took up the whole row. They didn’t just clap when Tanya’s class was on stage—they stomped and whistled and cheered.

“There are Tanya’s uncles,” everyone said. Sometimes it embarrassed Tanya a little bit.

At picnics in the park, her uncles played football, baseball, and tag with Tanya. They raced each other across the park and whooped and hollered and laughed.

“There are Tanya’s uncles,” everyone said. And Tanya would blush.

At Halloween her uncles dressed Tanya up as the front part of a dragon and gave her two flashlights to use for its eyes. Behind her was a lumpy, bumpy, green garbage-bag dragon with eight pairs of uncle legs. The back end of the dragon thumped and bumped and giggled.

“There are Tanya’s uncles,” everyone said. Tanya wished that her uncles wouldn’t be so noisy.

One day Tanya asked her mother, “Can we have just one uncle visit at a time?”

“Why, honey?” Mother asked. “Don’t you think it’s fun when we’re all together?”

“Well, there are so many of them that sometimes it seems noisy and confusing,” Tanya said.

“You’re lucky to have so many uncles, Tanya. Lots of kids don’t have any relatives nearby,” Mother reminded her. “Besides, which ones would we leave out?”

Tanya thought for a moment. She loved all her uncles. “I guess we couldn’t choose just one,” she said with a sigh.

One day Dad came home from work looking worried. “Our company’s closing down here,” he said. “We have a choice—we can move to a city where the company has a job for me, or we can stay here and look for other work.”

“There probably aren’t any other jobs in this area in your field,” said Mom.

“I know,” Dad replied, “but how can we move away? All our relatives are here.”

“I think it would be fun to live in a different place,” said Tanya. “Can we, Dad? Please?”

Tanya and her mom and dad talked it over. The uncles came and talked it over too. Finally they all decided that it would be best for Tanya’s family to move. Tanya could hardly wait.

When moving day came, Uncle Max, Uncle Al, and Uncle Ed carried boxes outside. Uncle Gerry and Uncle Bob helped Dad carry furniture. Uncle Vince, Uncle Rick, and Uncle Tony packed everything carefully into the rented truck. The uncles did not sing or whistle or laugh. One by one they quietly hugged Tanya and Mom and Dad good-bye.

Tanya sat in the cab of the truck between Mom and Dad. Her uncles stood in the driveway and waved as the truck pulled away.

Tanya didn’t sniffle like Mom or look miserable like Dad. She was too excited thinking about the trip to her new home more than a thousand miles away.

Soon they were all settled in their new house. Dad thought that his new job was even better than the one that he had left. Mom loved their new house and neighbors. Tanya liked everything about the new city, especially her new friends at school and at church.

But at school concerts Mom and Dad sat in the front row next to people that they didn’t know. Nobody stomped or whistled or cheered when Tanya’s class was on stage. The audience just clapped politely for every class.

At picnics in the park Tanya’s new friends played football, baseball, and tag with her. They raced each other across the park and whooped and hollered and laughed. But it wasn’t the same as the picnics she remembered.

When Halloween came, Tanya made her own costume; it was just for her. Afterward there was homemade pizza at her home. She and her friends played spooky games together. And though they laughed and yelled together, somehow it seemed too quiet.

“I wonder what the uncles are doing,” said Tanya one day.

“They keep pretty busy,” Mom answered. “Someday we’ll visit them, Tanya, but we have to save the money. It costs a lot to go that far.”

“I know,” Tanya said, sighing a bit wistfully.

The first year there was not enough holiday or vacation time to make the big trip to see the uncles. The next year Mom was sick for a while, and they had to pay medical bills. The third year their old car broke down, and they had to get a new one.

“I guess we’ll have to wait another year, Tanya,” Dad said. “I’m sorry.”

That week there was a public speaking contest at school. Tanya had never entered one before, but the prize was five hundred dollars, so she signed up just before the deadline. The local service organizations that were sponsoring the contest had chosen “Peace in Our World” as the topic.

The day of the contest came, and Mom and Dad sat in the front row. All the other contestants had written careful notes. Their speeches were clear and confident. They talked about world affairs, strong armies, and good government. The audience clapped enthusiastically after each one.

Tanya spoke last. She had not written any notes. She talked about the lumpy, bumpy Halloween dragon. She talked about soap carvings, stamp collecting, singing, and picnics in the park. Most of all she talked about her uncles.

“People all over the world can love each other, look after each other, and have fun together,” she said, “just like families. That’s what peace is all about.”

Tanya sat down, and the audience was quiet. At first she was afraid that everyone thought that her speech was dumb. Then they began to clap—and they kept on clapping! The judges had no trouble making their decision: Tanya was the winner!

“What will you do with all that prize money?” one of the judges asked.

“Buy some plane tickets,” Tanya replied happily, hugging Mom and Dad.

That summer when the three of them left the plane and entered the airport waiting area, there were Uncle Max, Uncle Al, and Uncle Ed … and Uncle Gerry and Uncle Bob … and Uncle Vince, Uncle Rick, and Uncle Tony! They were stomping and whistling and cheering. They were hollering and whooping and laughing. They were thumping and bumping and giggling.

But Tanya didn’t care if they were being noisy. “There are my uncles!” she squealed, running happily toward eight pairs of outstretched uncle arms.

[illustration] Illustrated by Dale Kilbourn