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Blog: A Salute To Smoke

(originally written 5/4/08)

I salute you, Smoke—quite possibly the coolest uncle-by-marriage in the history of mankind.


I never felt like Smoke, or William, as his drivers' license read, was an "uncle by marriage". He was always my uncle, and I was always his nephew. Ever since I was small, we have been more buddies than anything else, and I have had more laughs with him than I can remember. Unlike most of my relatives, he treated me with respect as a person no matter how young I might have been.

He was Dave "Smoke" Stewart, and I was Rickey "Flash" Henderson. I would explain how we got those monikers, but unless you spent your days and nights festering under the roof of 1250 Tuolumne Street in Vallejo, you would not get it.


Smoke was the second husband of my mom's sister. They had a rocky marriage, and after they divorced in the early 1990's he came to live with us for a few years. He brought with him his mischievous sense of humor and unique take on life in general, as well as life as a black man.  In the end, he'd spent nearly 2/3 of his life in California as a member of our family after leaving his native South Carolina.


There were so many dull nights that turned colorful once he got going. He could poke fun at anything and anyone, including himself. Some of my few happy memories of my preteen years are of he and my mom "performing" for the family. Again, I cannot fully explain his impact in words.


But I felt it. 


Smoke eventually remarried and moved into a house out in the woods. He had a baby daughter. Then, sadly, he had a stroke. A lifetime of poor eating, smoking and drinking caught up with him—but instead of killing him, it made him stronger.

My uncle changed his entire life, and as he pushed 60 was in the best health he'd ever been in. 

His cigs and booze habits became things of the past, and his meals were a far cry from the heaps of fried chicken he used to routinely devour. After a lifetime of working for other people he started working for himself, something he rightfully was very proud of.

Needless to say, he'd come a long way from when he showed up at our house, at rock bottom, in need of a place to stay. In summary, entering 2008, things weren't going too shabby for Smoke.


But on March 3, his closest daughter Ashanti died suddenly.
And on May 3, he died himself, of a massive heart attack.


The last time I saw him was three weeks ago, in Vallejo. In spite of our distance apart, I'm fortunate I was still able to see him about four times a year. He invited me out to his place in the woods for dinner each of the last four Christmases (That man could cook like it's nobody's business). I took him up on it in 2005, and am very glad I did. He wasn't sure if he was having a dinner this year or not.

Guess God made that decision FOR him.


I used to boast how I'd never lost anyone close to me to death. Now within two months I've lost a cousin and an uncle—maybe I should boast that I've never been a millionaire. Or never owned an Escalade. Or never been 6'5".


So I salute my late uncle Smoke, taken far too soon at a time when he may have been needed (by his late daughter's kids) more than ever. He was not a perfect man by any means, nor did he try to be. But he was proud to be my uncle, and I was DAMN proud to be his nephew. I won't ever forget him, and nobody could ever take his place in my life or the lives of those around him.

I wish I had told him face to face what I thought of him...but something tells me he knew.

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