Saturday, September 20, 2008

Uncle Paul

When Ted emailed us this week about the passing of Uncle Paul a flood of memories came rushing back to me. Uncle Paul was married to Ruth who was my Granddad Glenn's baby sister. So, although Ruth was my mother's aunt, they were close enough in age to have been sisters. Growing up in the late 50's and early 60's, our families spent a lot of time together.

When the Bartleys moved to Florida, it was a big deal around our house. They said come visit, and we Wests did visit - several times. Like the Beverly Hillbillies, we would pack up and the first week in June we would make the 2 day trek from West Virginia to Florida without the benefit of interstates and air conditioning. Once we arrived, the fun would start. For me, it was the beach. To this day I have never seen more beautiful beaches than those beaches on Anna Maria Island.

Uncle Paul was the "cruise director". It seemed like everyday he had something new and exciting planned for us. I remember learning about Hernando de Soto, seeing manatees, alligators, riding his scooter, riding bikes, collecting shells, and rough housing in the gulf with Uncle Paul and my dad. They would love to launch us into the waves. It seemed like we kids always got sunburned on the first day and then spent the rest of the time swimming with Tshirts on. There was no sunscreen in those days. To this day if I smell Solarcaine, I think of our Bradenton trips.

Uncle Paul's laugh was infectious. He seemed perennially happy. I know as a kid, I loved to be around him. He was mischievous and had great stories to tell. That's probably why he and Dad got along so well. I don't think I ever saw him get angry and we kids on vacation gave him every opportunity. He would discipline us if we needed it, but I don't think his heart was ever in it.

I remember he always had a camera ready. This was back in the day when cameras weren't handy. Taking a photo was a big deal, but he made it seem easy. Every year we returned to W.Va. with a professionally done family photo - some hilariously candid.

Obviously, over the years our families drifted apart and we somewhat lost touch. However, fortunately, cousin Ted ended up going to work for Uncle Paul for awhile and settling in nearby Palmetto starting his own photography business. So we've been able to keep up with the Bartleys through him. Uncle Paul was a great man who lived life to the fullest and was a model to us all. He will be missed by all of us who have known and loved him. My sympathies and prayers to Aunt Ruth, Linda, David, and Becky.


Mike West said...

Amen brother! A great tribute to a great man! He ALWAYS had a smile on his face. Remember the West Photo of our family visiting Bradenton? The one that appeared in the Bradenton Herald. I thought we were so special because we had made it to the newspaper. I have a copy here. I think I was like 1 or 2 years of age at the time? I know I still had a diaper on.

twest said...

It's such a great post and it has been difficult for me to comment. You guys have such fond memories of those summers and I can certainly understand. I remember when you guys would leave in that VW bug and be gone for what seemed to me was most of the summer (time was slow back then in Angel Terrace) and finally return from that foreign land of Florida.

Zoom ahead about 15 years and I'm living in Clearwater,FL with some buddies after graduating Marshall U. While on one of my notorious solo photographic expeditions I get lost while travelling south and come upon this quaint town of Bradenton. (This is basically how Paul and Ruth ended up here - he got lost going to Sarasota.) I remembered my Dad (or Snook) saying the Bartleys lived in Bradenton, I should give them a call sometime. Right. I vaguely remembered them and I was sure they didn't know me or would care to hear from me. How I mustered the nerve to call I'll never know, but I did, and my life changed forever.

I honestly did not know he was a photographer. So after filling in the gaps about the clan in Paducah he asked what brought me down here. "Out taking pictures." It was some time later I figured he probably thought I was the biggest suck-up around. No matter, he got me a stint at The Bradenton Herald in advertising ("photographers don't make any money") No truer words were ever spoken.

As he was opening his own studio I would help at night till all hours processing film and prints. "Are you comfortable doing that?" was a familiar refrain for - don't screw it up, it can't be redone. He finally had enough business to hire me full-time and the rest, as they say, is history.

I never felt I worked "for" Paul, I worked with him. Side by side, day-in, day-out for close to twenty years. You get to know a man in that space of time, and this was a heck of a man to know. A true role model whose shoes are impossible to fill. Or follow. Sure, I learned photography, but it went way beyond that.

He and his family took me in as their own, and soon thereafter Care and the kids. Many memories, almost always hilarious, never to be forgotten. He was always there for me, and I would do anything for him. And I'm not alone - that's just how he was, a born leader.

When David called to give me the news he said - "you know he considered you his second son." Yes, I know.

Brodad Unkabuddy said...

I know this has been a difficult time for you too, Ted. Uncle Paul was an uncle to us and we loved him, but to you he was a friend and a father figure. I know how much he meant to you.