James David Scharf

My uncle Jim was my mom’s older (by two years) brother. From pictures, it looks like they spent a good deal of time together growing up. This makes sense as they lived down on the Ohio River and there were not a lot of other children around. Their younger brother did not show up until about ten years after my mother.  

Jim and Susan

Later they appeared friendly but there was a distance involved. My uncle was a very driven man. He enlisted in the Army after graduating from Purdue University. He was in the Vietnam War and continued with the military until he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. It was his desire to leave his small hometown see the world, and he did. I feel his siblings never felt that way, their town was plenty big for them, and there were some hard feelings with regards to him leaving. I had similar struggles with my brother and departure from our growing up town, so maybe I am projecting or maybe that is what bound my Uncle and I.

Jim Scharf

My Uncle married Aunt Carolyn and they had three children. Their youngest child, Anne was three months younger than I, and killed by a drunk driver when we were in high school. I could not fathom it in 1985, and I still cannot fathom how that changes a person today.

Jim was big on promises, less big on follow through. That was fine to me as when he did follow through, it was always clutch and amazing. He and Julie (his second wife) would sometimes be at Christmas, sometimes not. One year they dropped in and he said what do you want for Christmas. This was the 80s designer jeans, everything with a name on it and I was a kid that saved her money from working at Ponderosa to buy one pair of Calvin Klein jeans and wore them constantly. I told them a Coca Cola Jean Jacket, knowing it was so far out of my budget I would never ever see one. And yet under the tree, it appeared. I still have that jacket, though it doesn’t quite fit as well.

Me looking quite sassy in my new jean jacket

Like I said, he didn’t always follow through. I know he promised his siblings and mother; things that never appeared, but I feel in my heart he always meant to, just some other idea took over or distracted him. He promised me a sherpa rug for my dorm floor. It never appeared but he was there when I needed him more than things.

I went to a college I had never set foot on campus before I arrived Freshman year. We had enough money to send me on a plane there but neither parent was going with me. At the time Jim and Julie were living in Virginia and they agreed to let me ship my boxes of clothes, etc. to them and then meet me at the airport in Boston to make sure I got settled in. This was at a time when Logan airport was one of the few airports that did not allow non passengers down to the gate (but I did not know that). I got off the plane, 40% excited 60% scared to death and there was no one to meet me. I started to walk knowing that at a minimum I needed to get to baggage claim and get my luggage. And there after walking out of security, they were waiting for me. They picked up my luggage, got me settled into my dorm, took me to dinner, quick stop in the bookstore and then went home. When my Uncle died, Julie sent me the college sweatshirt he had picked up for himself that day. It was well worn and made me smile.

While my grandmother was somewhat interested in family history, my Uncle Jim went through a period of time where he was very devoted to genealogy. He taught me about Soundex and how to figure out what microfilm you needed to review (long before the internet and all its wonderful digitalization). He would have me hunt things where I was and shared finds from the National Archives with me. I still have quite a few compilations that he put together and often think how amazed he would be that it is so much easier to find things. And how excited he would be that I am working in the genealogy center in our library.

He built my first resume for me. Showed me how to do it, what to include, what phrasing to use. At that time not a single family member was literate in this art. He took his time, many drafts and patience to teach me this much needed skill to get my first job. I think about him a lot when I update my resume or help a friend with theirs. He was such a quiet, stable part of my life for being someone I saw rarely and I am not sure I even own a picture of the two of us together.

My mom, Uncle and Grandma Scharf

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