. Saying Goodbye to Uncle Fred
Uncle Fred is not well and probably won’t get any better. We all sense it. It is only a matter of time. He is suffering from a lung ailment similar to what took the breath from my father five years ago and may have even caused the wheezing condition of my paternal grandfather almost fifty years ago. For Uncle Fred, it seemed to happen suddenly to a healthy man in the prime of his golden years. It sucked the energy and vitality from his frame and stature within months.
I wanted badly to have one last chance to visit with him. He is my father’s youngest brother, an uncle from my youth. He was young enough when we were children to come from the nearby college he attended to have supper at our table, romp with us on the back lawn, and treat us with whistles he whittled with his own knife from the willows in our ditch. We never quite forgot the magic of green weeds making music.
Of course, we carefully watched as he fell in love with Aunt Shirley, a precious bride who carried the first and maiden name of our own mother. Somehow, we were related to her even before they married, moved away, and had their own large family. After that we didn’t see him very often, but the memories of Uncle Fred were always a part of our sibling conversation. “Remember when,” we would often say, “Remember how Uncle Fred…” And then we would laugh together in delight at the revered memories.
And so when the holidays came, I thought maybe he might be in town visiting his children and their families who now live nearby. And it just so happened that one morning he was only about five miles from my own home. When the news came, oh how I flew down the highway to meet him before the relatives whisked him off to a movie. I needed one more hug, one more sweet conversation, and one more laugh with a man who has mentored me all through the years of my life simply because he loved me when I was young.
One year long ago, Uncle Fred and Aunt Shirley gave Christmas gifts to our family. Mine was a precious gift perfect for a new teenager, a small green and pink paperboard jewelry box with three drawers and plastic dividers. It meant enough to me to be kept and treasured all these years. Today it sits in my closet still holding my earrings and necklaces, a sweet reminder that things loved become precious because of the generosity and memories they represent.
Oh, Uncle Fred, it will be hard to see you go, but because I have my jewelry box, know how to make willow whistles, and because I got to hug you one last time and hear you laugh about days gone by, I will always remember that what I do, how I act, who I love, and how I live makes a difference. Maybe not a difference I can see or appreciate now, but a difference nevertheless. I will keep my prized jewelry box to remind me that your gifts were many and varied in my life. Thank you, Uncle Fred, for showing me how to have joy, how to laugh at challenges, and how to come to believe in the eternities.
As you, yourself, said to me, “Marie, the time comes when faith is no longer needed. You know, you really know that eternity is just around the corner.” He said it with just a bit of anticipation. His mother and father will be waiting, as will my own father and his older sister. There will be others waiting, too, I am sure. Friends and family, acquaintances and associates who will all have their own stories about why and how Uncle Fred changed their life!