I don’t see my father’s side of the family as often as I should. I saw Uncle Barry and some of the crew at my sister’s wedding in late August. Here they are. That’s him, second from the right.
Here’s some prime Dr. Barry Keith Young-ness for you. In one of the photos from this moment, I went to get in the line up. Uncle Barry said, “Gary hasn’t seen this side of the family in so long, he doesn’t know what to do. Get in here, man.”
And that was Uncle Barry. He could bust your chops, make you laugh, and let you know that you’re loved at the same time.
It’s kind of funny. My mother’s side of the family is pretty stoic. My father’s side of the family is very affectionate. When you saw him you would get the biggest bear hug along with a little stubble burn. Like a manly bear hug should be.
It really isn’t possible for me to capture his character, his mannerisms, and… he was a fun, funny, serious, loud, kind, caring, generous dude.
It was covid. %$#!ing Covid. And it was a shock. I mean, two months later and he’s gone. I’m so tired, y’all.
When I was in high school and college, I found out that he was a DJ at WEAA in Baltimore. I remember going up and down the radio dial and being like, “Wait. That’s Uncle Barry.”
So after school and commuting, I would listen and sometimes record. (That was back in the day of boom boxes and cassette players so you record what was on the radio on to the cassette.)
My uncle with the warm, bassy radio voice. And he played THE best jazz and smooth jazz. Some of the same music he would play at the house when we visited. There’s nothing like being with people you dig with good music simmering in the background.
He would sign off his radio show sometimes with, “Don’t be nicer to your friends than you are to your family.”
What I didn’t know is what a pivotal role he played at WEAA, how he helped it turn around after mismanagement and corruption and reestablish itself in the community. If I have my story straight, there was one of those political upheavals at the station. After that, Uncle Barry became an educator. He was a teacher ever since then until he died.
He and my dad would watch football games at his house. I was never too much into sports. I remember a long time ago. My dad took me and my sister to visit. It was one of the first times I met my new cousins, Uncle Barry’s two stepsons, Bo and Omar. And we walked from the house down to a creek, kind of into the woods. It was Autumn and the trees were yellow and gold and green. The trees, the ground, the leaves floating on the stream. And we were rock hopping in this little oasis, the colors practically glowing and dappled with sunlight.
It was the most sublime experience. And I saw a snake that I swore was a rattle snake. It must have been dead, because I don’t remember being scared. I just remembered the colors — dabs of reddish brown diamond among all the Autumn fallen leaf colors.
It was like stepping out of a magic wardrobe back to the warmth of Uncle Barry and Aunt Margo’s house for dinner.
You know. We all make plans. I don’t know about you, but it takes me a while to get around to making things happen sometimes. Lots of good ideas. Turtle’s pace.
At my sister’s wedding, we were standing outside in the heat catching up a little bit. Taking pics. I said, “It’s good to see everyone and get together. And it’s not a funeral for once.
I took too long. I have regrets.
Today, as I looked around the room and was talking with my cousins, I realized how lucky I am to be a part of that big family. To be a part of two big families.
I love these people. They’re such good people. I come from good people. Even the family members who are distant, who are outliers. Maybe there’s family drama or bad blood. I don’t care. I love them, too. If you’re reading this somehow, we love you, too. I love you, too. I hope we all come together, but if we don’t, I hope we all get to live our best lives together apart. Near or far, we’re family.
It’s brutal when we lose someone. Pillars of the family. Sometimes pillars of the community, too. We aren’t the same without them. We go on, because — what else can you do. We take those lessons and spirit and embody them.
Uncle Barry was the life of the party. He really did light up a room and bring love and joy and comfort wherever he went. That’s a good way to be. He did his part. We carry on and do ours now.
I like what Omar said today in his remarks, so I’m going to steal it and use it from now on.
Rest easy. All is well.