Our family, and all of Santa Barbara, has lost an amazing, very unique individual.
I come from a loving, close-knit family. My uncle was only five years older than me, the youngest of nine children, the baby of my mother’s family. On February 17, 2013, my uncle was riding 30 miles per hour on a memorial ride with his biker club. His wife, Kari, was on the back of his bike. Out of nowhere, he hit the guard rail. My uncle died two hours later. Kari sustained severe injuries and will take a long time to recover. This is so hard to accept, on so many levels.
Squally has been riding motorcycles since he was about 6 years old. In high school (Dos Pueblos, Class of 1981), he was a football star. Squally was my real-life Superman, and his laugh was highly infectious. You knew when he was coming or going, but you never knew if anything was wrong with him, or if he was sick, because he never showed it. I will miss his goofy, cheesy smile and his yelling my name: “TON-TEEN!”
People have often asked where the name Squally came from. My grandmother Sarah named my uncle “Fred” after his father, but the nickname Squally was what stuck. It came from the way my uncle cried as a baby: Grandma said he “squallered.” But the funniest thing — which hardly anyone knew, but now everyone will — is that his real first name as a baby was Skeet-A-Pee, because every time he peed on someone as a baby, he would smile.
Our family is known for odd names — maybe it’s a country thing? Examples: Peter is my mom’s name; Bop is my aunt Barbara, because she used to hit people a lot; Peanut is my uncle Eugene, who had a small head. Bigman, my uncle Robert, was given that name because he was only four pounds when he was born, and had to be carried around on a pillow. (Most people think it’s because he was, as per the Guiness Book of World Records, the heaviest high school football player on earth.) BootyGal … the point is, this is what everyone called them. So given all that, Squally never seemed to me like a particularly unusual handle.
In 1993, my uncle traded his car for a friend’s red RD motorcycle. My Aunt Bop got a call on her way home from work from someone who had heard there was a red RD down, and they thought it was Squally. She sped over to Glen Annie Road. Fire engines everywhere, she tried to get through, she told them, “I think that’s my brother,” and they let her through. My uncle was lying there on the road, his letterman’s jacket all sliced up. My aunt started screaming. My uncle opened his eyes and said, “Bop?” She screamed again: “I hate you, I mean, I love you! I thought you were dead!”
My uncle, who had been on his way to football training camp at UCSB, suffered two shattered femurs. He was 6’2” at the time the drunk driver pulled out in front of him; afterward he was 6‘0”. At first the doctors said my uncle would never walk again; then they said he would be in a wheelchair for at least a year. He was walking in three months, and to watch him walk, you would never have dreamed that he could do so only thanks to metal plates that replaced the femurs in his thighs. Further evidence that my uncle was a real life Superman is that until the day he left us, it was commonplace for him to be camping, jet skiing, riding his motorcycle, snowboarding, or waterskiing.
He was a true gentleman. There are very few people left in the world like him. If you were broken down on the side of the road with a flat tire, or the only one pushing your car, he’s not whisking by you saying, “Sorry bastard.” He’s out of his vehicle and helping you even if it makes him late.
He was also known in our family as “the black MacGyver”: If it’s broken, he can fix it; if it needs to be built, he can build it. It may not turn out the way you expected, but you could always count on him, and he would never give up.
We all have friends, and we know helping them move is not fun. But anyone could call on my uncle, and he would expect nothing in return.
One of my last fond memories of my uncle is from 2011, when I took him and my other cousin to a Snoop Dogg concert at the Majestic Ventura Theater. Snoop does this thing where he calls girls onstage to dance with him, and Snoop pointed at me to come up. All of a sudden my feet are airborne (my uncle was a big man, probably the only man that could actually pick me up) and with his other arm my uncle has cleared out our row to the aisle. My uncle says, “You ready?” I said, “No! I don’t want to be known as some booty-shakin’ Snoop girl on YouTube!” He didn’t force it, of course; he put me down with good humor.
My uncle was my protector. Every year, he and his wife would ride their bicycles down from Lompoc for the 4th of July, and I will never ever, ever, know how, but like clockwork, in the middle of hundreds of thousands of people at the beach, I’d hear, “Ton-Teen, you better not be with no boys! Watchu doin’ girl?” He would find me and scoop me up with a huge bear hug.
The hardest part is not hearing Uncle Squally’s voice. I can’t stop listening to his voicemail messages. I wish that God wouldn’t continually take my family so soon. Love and miss you so much!
We will be celebrating his life this Saturday, March 30, in the Grove at the Elks Lodge (150 N. Kellog Ave.) at 11 a.m.