Jonathan Winters was my Uncle

winters ten gallon cigar
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Ok, not really. But I first came to know the work of Jonathan Winters, to hear the voice–voices–of Winters by way of my Uncle Jim, who gave his brother’s kids an old record player and an assortment of 45rpm, 78rpm, and LP record albums, sometime in the late sixties.

Among other things, there were singles by Elvis, Stan Freberg, and Andy Griffith (stand up bits recorded before he became Sheriff Andy), and a Jonathan Winters LP, possibly this one:

winters eyes album cover
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My sisters and I used some of the Elvis 78s for frisbees, I’m afraid. I won’t be the one holding up a valuable Sun Records disc for the camera at Antiques Roadshow. Forty and more years later, I remember vividly records scattered around my sisters’ bedroom, the scratch of the needle hitting the groove, my sister Stacy flinging herself about in a frenetic dance to the music of the Monkees, and voices. Voices mostly of Stan Freberg and Jonathan Winters. I have artifacts of memory, but not the artifacts themselves–both the record player and all that vintage vinyl are long gone, where I don’t know. That I don’t remember. I do remember laughing so hard my stomach hurt.

I associate Jonathan Winters and my Uncle Jim not only because Jim gave us that Winters album but because Winters was a round-faced storyteller and so is Jim. He would tell us the story of Hog’s Foot, which is all about the sound effects. Jim was also the family keeper of dirty jokes. One of my proudest moments was the successful telling of a dirty joke Uncle Jim hadn’t heard. Because of all of the above, because of listening to that Jonathan Winters record over and over beginning about age 8, I consider Jonathan Winters my ghost uncle, a sort of doppelganger of my real uncle. But I suspect Winters is a lot of people’s ghost uncle.

Now my Uncle Jonathan is a ghost, extant in memory, and available for replay via YouTube; a ghost of many voices, imprinted on my neurons. My Uncle Jim, though he is long in the tooth and often feeling poorly, is available live and in person, and I will see him at the next family gathering, fates be willing. Thank you, Jim, for all these voices in my head.

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2 responses to “Jonathan Winters was my Uncle

  1. Including your own, Jim.

  2. I remember a few Winters’ performances.
    My impression is that other comedians
    envied his talent.

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