My Dad is the youngest of nine kids. Since he was the youngest, my brother and I were in the trailing end of the grand-kids. By the time we were old enough to form memories of annual family gatherings, the older grand-kids had stopped attending those reunions due to jobs and school obligations. There were only a few events where almost everyone attended, but most of my memories of visiting his family revolve around the few people who lived in the area we gathered.
As an adult, when I would attend reunions in Tennessee, I often stayed with one of my Dad’s brothers who lived in the area where we gathered – Uncle Tommy. I have no idea what he was like as a brother, a son, a father, or a husband. But – he was the perfect example of that Cool Uncle who drinks beer, smokes cigarettes, and laughs in a way that – even though you weren’t old enough to get the joke – you still laughed at it because the laughter itself was so contagious. My dad laughs the same way.
My uncle complimented my ankle butterfly tattoo the first time he saw it.
Like my father, he was a jack-of-all trades. All three of the brothers were. It comes with growing up on a farm with nine kids, I guess. You learned to do what needed to be done to keep everything running smoothly. My Dad tells stories of milking cows before school. I can’t even get LilZ to shower in the mornings, much less do an outdoor chore. Hell – I wouldn’t even be able to get myself to do any outdoor work in the mornings.
I remember always being amazed that my uncle pretty much built his house himself. It was a big house for their four kids. It was two stories (or was it three?) and he did it himself. For a city girl like me, I found this almost miraculous.
He was also a craftsman. There were always baskets of yarn around my uncle’s easy chair. I think that is why receiving this blanket from him meant so much to me. He liked to build birdhouses as well, though I never did get to see those. I did get to see one of his handmade porch swings and wondered how many people were in line for those things as it seemed everyone in the family was asking when theirs would be done. We’re a demanding bunch.
He had the same sense of humor that my Dad and the rest of the family have. When we all get together, I just enjoy sitting back and listening to them all bounce stories and humorous commentary off of each other. My uncle referred to their Dad as “the Old Man” – but he managed to load the phrase with a tone of respect that kept you from even flinching at the term. There were stories floating around at the last gathering of how, when he would go to help certain female senior citizens in the community, they would always send him away with more food than he knew what to do with. He had that jovial charm that probably caused the women around the county to hand over any baked good or preserves they could whip up while he was helping them. I think most of it ended up at our gatherings.
His kids were amazing kids and have all become interesting and fun adults. I haven’t seen his son in awhile, but his three daughters were at the last gathering and they rib each other in the same way my Dad and all of his siblings do. It’s fun to see them give their Dad a hard time and have him dish it right back. They had a great dynamic about them that was always fun to be a part of. I’ve always been grateful that we live so close to where they all meet up every spring, especially now.
It turns out my uncle passed away this weekend. I wish I had found a way to let him know how cool of an uncle he was. Our family is not one to be too mushy when it comes to affection, but it doesn’t make me wish I had shared my thoughts any less. It’s funny how it is so easy to just not tell people what you love about them because they are so distant to you 350+ days of the year. But, if those few days a year we see someone are enough to build that admiration and affection, we should share it with them. Maybe that will be a good New Year’s resolution – take a moment to tell those in my extended family what I love about them. Let them know how they play a part in my memories or my idea of family. I guess life is short enough that no amount of “We’re just not that kind of family…” is really justifiable when it comes to delaying sharing affection.
You made me laugh, Uncle Tommy. Fare the well.