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This must be the place: Ode to Uncle Bobby, ode to bitchin’ Ford T-Birds

Robert Bromley Woodward. Donated photo Robert Bromley Woodward. Donated photo

The last time I saw my Uncle Bobby was about four years ago, high up on some floor in the VA Hospital in the depths of Albany, New York. I had just picked up a bag of cheese puffs and a cold bottle of Pepsi at the VA’s basement store/gift shop. Knowing those were my uncle’s favorite snacks, there was a smile ear-to-ear when I walked into his room and handed him the junk food.

I was also accompanying my father, Frank, who was my uncle’s guiding light for most of his life — from his childhood, and now through his later years amid failing health. As my Uncle Bobby’s oldest brother, my father always had made sure to take care of his siblings in their times of need, come hell or high water — all seven of them. 

In that instance at the VA, Frank wanted to swing by and make sure his little brother was getting the best care that he could, and that, most importantly, his living conditions were suitable and comfortable. Uncle Bobby seemed content, laying in his bed watching old reruns on the TV attached the wall, being wheeled outside whenever he wanted some fresh air or to genuinely feel the sun upon his face.

And last week, on March 11, Uncle Bobby passed away peacefully at the VA, surrounded by his two children, Cassity and Robbie, and grandchildren, as well. At age 79, Uncle Bobby left this earthly plane following many years of medical issues that were the result of 17 years of active duty in the U.S. Navy, which included serving in the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

Robert Bromley Woodward (aka: “Woody,” “Bob”) was born on Aug. 28, 1943, in Plattsburgh, New York, the son of the late Robert W. Woodward and Barbara (Bromley) Woodward. He attended Peru Central School before enlisting in the Navy on his 17th birthday. He was medically discharged under honorable conditions as a BT 2nd Class in 1976. Woodward was also the past Commander of the Peru Memorial VFW Post 309.

A lifelong NASCAR racing fan, Uncle Bobby was a die-hard Dale Earnhardt supporter, only to then cheer on Dale Jr. in later years. As it’s been said, “Though he traveled the world while in the Navy, Bob’s heart was always in his hometown of Peru where he enjoyed his siblings and many close friendships, rolling logs on the river in the summer and speed skating in the winter.”

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Growing up, Uncle Bobby would bring me to the Airborne Speedway in Plattsburgh. He’d show me around the pit, introducing me to the racecar drivers that were his friends and so forth. There I was, this young kid, wandering around the sidelines of the track, watching the fast vehicles zoom by, the smell of oil and gas wafting through the air. It was so damn cool. It really was.

And I remember many Sunday afternoons jumping in our family van with my father and stopping by Uncle Bobby’s modest trailer in the small North Country town of Schuyler Falls, New York. After hugs and small talk, we’d all head for the living room and watch the races. Frank and I on the couch, Uncle Bobby in his signature recliner.

A vehemently loyal Ford owner, Uncle Bobby would also take me on joy rides in his bitchin' early 1990s Ford Thunderbird. He adored that car. When he’d come by our old farmhouse on the Canadian Border, he’d roll up the driveway in that T-Bird, look right at me, and say, “Jump in.” We’d cruise down backroads and along the farm fields of rural Clinton County, the gas pedal pushed to the floor on a long straightaway.

Uncle Bobby always loved me, and never forgot to tell me how proud he was of me, and did so as far back as I can remember. To that, we both had the gift of gab amid endless, rollickin’ conversation where the adage “all friends were strangers at one time” really came to fruition. As a bonafide bullshitter, he'd say, "I just couldn't help myself," when spinning a good yarn at the local VFW or American Legion. 

In his last years, many of us weren’t able to see Uncle Bobby at the VA due to strict protocols with the pandemic and shutdown. Although I’ve been able to return to my native North Country several times since March 2020, I wasn’t able to reenter the VA whenever I was within vicinity of Albany, the only solution being the occasion Facetime with him while he and Frank talked on the phone.

With the passing of Uncle Bobby, there are now only four of the original eight Woodward siblings alive. In recent years, we’ve also lost my Uncle Scott, Aunt Beverly, and Aunt Bonnie. And that’s what happens when you’re raised in an older family, where there comes a point when folks, well, seem to “drop like flies.” It’s the natural cycle of life, sadly.

And yet, I continue to take these losses as acquired pieces of the puzzle that is the great mystery of life, and of the universe itself. But, truth-be-told, there really doesn’t need to be any answers to those unanswerable questions about life, love, fate, and just what lies beyond the horizon. 

In essence, all that really, honestly matters in the grand scheme of things is love, compassion, friendship, and being able to immerse oneself in any moment at hand — embrace “the now,” and don’t worry about anything else. 

That, and my personal belief, more so life motto — which applies to all scenarios — of, “Who cares if it costs a little more? Order the filet mignon, always order the filet mignon.”

In closing, I will miss my Uncle Bobby. He was truly “one of the good ones,” you know? But, I’m so grateful I was bestowed the honor of being his nephew. As they say, “Fair winds and following seas, sailor.”

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

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