. Uncle Glen, Also Known as Dad
His eyes were blue and young looking, even when he grew old. He would often wake up in the morning with the anticipation of a little child and say, “I’ve thought of something new. Its a better way, a solution to my problem.”
He was optimistic; the kind of buoyancy that kept you joyous whenever you were around him and he made short comments that sent your soul flying at the audacity of him thinking life could be so good. He loved cream on cold canned peaches, toast with “real” butter, and lamb roast cooked just right.
Not everyone knew his full name, but they always knew he would be there. No invitation for a wedding, missionary farewell, or a funeral ever came to the home, but that he planned to go. In his later years, he showed up treading slowly behind his wheelchair, sweeping it around to plop down if he was getting into a conversation and wearing a clean white shirt, suspenders, and dark blue pants, his uniform for simple living. “Glen’s the name, Uncle Glen if you want.”
He liked having people around him and would invite those traveling through Mapleton “to stay awhile” which usually meant dinner, the double bed in the basement, and tomorrow’s hot pancakes. The first Sunday evening of the month was reserved for extended family, their spouses, and children. Freshly frozen ice cream came with the visit, especially if you brought along children to pet the new baby lambs, touch the freshly hatched chickens, or milk a cow.
He had been strong once, with ample energy to buy five acres and farm them, teach at a local university and eventually send hundreds of students out to keep the world surveyed with proper written notations. He built their home himself, using his own architectural design and heating system, learning to do plumbing and electrical, roofing and brick laying. He did it slow and did it right, well enough that his home now keeps his grandchildren as they grow.
It is a simple home with sunshine in the kitchen and a warm fireplace in the front room for chilly evenings. He finished the basement, too, but it took him ten years as Church responsibilities, professional needs, and raising children kept him from this focus. But finally it was done, and still the family kept growing…
They raised eight children after he courted a strong woman who endeared herself to him. As he said, “Nobody looked at me much until the Shirley days.” She was different than him, foreign-raised in a large city, with servants, a parochial school education, and clipped English accent. He had been birthed on a farm, raised in the silent mountains watching his father’s sheep, and worked dawn to dusk weeding through hot teenage summers. But love brought them together, children kept them together, and trials cemented their hearts as one.
She seemed healthier for a long while, saddened because Lou Gehrig’s disease had been diagnosed too early in his life, gladdened because the diagnosis proved to be wrong enough not to take his life right away. And so he stumbled, began using six-foot walking canes, and finally found that a wheelchair made it viable to still live, move, and work.
Suddenly and sadly, a brain tumor trembled her limbs, robbing their hope for golden years together, removing the strength quickly from her fingers, then her arms, and finally her legs. So at the end, he in his wheelchair fed her in the hospital bed, placed in the middle of the kitchen so sunshine could rest upon her as a slow, heavy sleepiness enveloped her mind.
He didn’t cry much for her after she was gone, just kept going on his experiments, encouraging his grandchildren to work for him on his projects (and paying them when they did), and teaching anyone to blow glass that was interested in his fascinating hobby.
He was revered because he didn’t judge, he just loved. Rarely did he criticize, but when those eyes would look at you “too” long, with all your heart you wanted to make him proud. And so as children we learned to weed the strawberry patch, pick cherries “with the stems on” for the fussy customers, and mow the lawn until it was flat and smooth for Sunday family conversations under the apple trees.
He didn’t tell on people, didn’t talk about their mistakes, and didn’t rely on gossip to keep a good banter going. His mind was too full of ideas waiting to burst themselves beyond the bounds of his soul and rest in other’s hearts to season and bless. He loved cement and all its possibilities to construct strong homes, simple people in foreign countries pulling their living from barren soul, and gentleness. He was just kind.
Wanted to know your name, where you were from, and who your grandpa was (as he just might have known him). Somehow, in the short time you spent with him that first time, he found a way to make a connection with you, found something you both shared, and from then on you were his friend. He remembered names, wrote your birthday down on the calendar in his front pocket, and asked after your family and persuasions.
His yearly Christmas card basket was full of pictures, letters, and notes of gratitude. He didn’t say much when he handed you a check, but he gave without a thought of cost or calculation of personal loss. He just shared. If you were getting married, it was going to be expensive and he wanted to help out a bit. If you were going on a mission, graduating from school, or moving, you might need a little extra. “Here, its from me to you,” he would say.
Maybe his generosity came from serving in World War II and standing as a military policeman for endless hours at the crossings of foreign streets. He had talked to children in short English sentences as he shared his chocolate, listened to the old women worry about their missing sons, and learned how much so little could mean. He had promised his mother when he left he would come home as clean as he had gone. When he did come home, they took a second walk where he confided that he had kept his promise.
He didn’t swear either, nor had he tasted of liquor. He often said his grandfather hadn’t tasted of liquor and had told his father so, and his father hadn’t tasted of liquor and had told him so. Then he told us he hadn’t tasted of liquor and asked us not to do so. It was pretty powerful persuasion to keep the legacy. “You will be the fourth generation to keep that trust,” he would say.
He drew, too. Not well, but good enough for his needs, filling several green bound books with his civil engineering ideas, his version of friends’ portraits (probably during boring faculty meetings), and his plans for the next experiment. After he was gone, a self-portrait was found. Simple to the end, he had drawn himself in a few lines with his favorite wool cap upon his bald head.
He lived long after his wife died, surrounded in his own home with his daughter, her husband, and an ever-growing family of grandchildren. They would bring the new kittens for his approval and walk slowly with him as he monitored the progress of his latest vegetable garden drip system. He hugged, he laughed, and he lived. Deeply, clear to the center of his soul, he lived with joy.
He could play one song on the piano all the way through. “Springtime in the Rockies” was a favorite at family reunions. It was the one song he owned and so we sang it at his funeral, for he died in May, right in the middle of a perfect spring day.
He slipped away quietly. Got up that last morning and dressed himself as usual in white shirt and blue pants. He ate breakfast, laughed at someone’s comment, and then retired to his “office” to work a bit. He slipped away quietly, like he was telling his own last joke. “Oops, forgot to say so, but goodbye.”
How do you measure a man? By the people he loved or the people that loved him? By the Christmas cards that arrived or the memories that even forty years after come when you mention his name and an old acquaintance says, “Glen. Oh, Glen. I remember him. At that Christmas party so long ago he was to sing ‘five golden rings’ just at the right place. And every time it came his turn, we would laugh so hard to hear him sing with clarity and delight, ‘Five golden ringsssssssssss!’ Remember it to this day, I do. He was someone you never forgot.”
Happy Father’s Day, Dad, or Uncle Glen as so many came to call you!