03/21/2012 10:28 am ET Updated May 21, 2012

Bruce Springsteen and My Uncle Bob

Written by Gina Conti

When I think about Bruce, I think about Bob. Please don't cringe -- I promise this isn't a flashback to the first days of Bruce Springsteen and the inescapable comparison to Bob Dylan. Bob is my dad's first cousin. I've never been an expert on what that makes him to me, so I've been perfectly fine calling him uncle since I was little enough to wear his class ring as a bracelet. That's not saying much, though. My Uncle Bob looks like the type of guy that could pick up one of the cars Bruce sings about and throw it farther than most people could drive it.

Almost every memory of Bruce Springsteen that I have had growing up involves my "uncle." He's driving the car when we're speeding around corners with the windows down in the summer, blaring "Mary's Place" for the rest of my small town to hear it. He's requesting "Thunder Road" at family weddings and shuffling his massive body across the floor of my grandma's kitchen in rusty old Erie, PA to "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out." I know when the Steelers Super Bowl Champions license plate pulls into my driveway that Uncle Bob is in town and he's brought Bruce with him.

More and more throughout my life, I began to associate Springsteen's music with my family; the people for whom I have more love, respect and admiration than I could ever put into words. My uncle used Springsteen's music to bring us together as a family; a source of connection for even the most unlikely of types: an eight-year-old girl with an eye patch and a former college athlete. I've never really thanked him for what he has enabled me to do -- to hear the music of Springsteen, no matter where I am, and immediately feel the presence of the people I love the most. Home is wherever my family is. And wherever I hear Bruce, I am at home.

That's why a few months ago when I was presented with the option to enroll in Springsteen's America, a class that looked at the history of the past half century with an emphasis on how Bruce Springsteen's music responded to the changing times, I couldn't pass it up. Maybe I'd understand what events in history prompted such an intense passion for Springsteen in my family. Maybe I'd become a bigger fan on my own accord. Maybe I'd finally feel a little bit more at home in Madison, hours away from my family.

It didn't take long for all of these maybes to become realities. As I semi-walk, semi-dance to "Rosalita" on the way to class, I realize I probably feel more at home than I should. The possibility I never imagined was finding a message in Springsteen's lyrics about growing up and getting out of town -- the one I needed the most as I left home for the first time -- is that it's good to challenge your limits and stretch as far as you can, but it's better when you always remember where you came from. Take with you what you have learned from those you love and you can go anywhere and accomplish anything.

Thanks, Uncle Bob.

Gina Conti is a freshman at UW who grew up outside Chicago. She describes herself as "a realistic optimist who enjoys having an older brother and trying to figure out what her major should be."