Monday, February 16, 2015

Uncle Jim

It was Friday, February 6. I hadn't been up long, just beginning to start our day. Adjusting to life with six children at home, enjoying our precious little Cadie Sean. We had been home from the hospital for less than 24 hours. I was exhausted, but doing ok. I got on Facebook and saw some very cryptic posts. First from my cousin Jackie's daughter, Kimberly..."Please pray for my family"...then my cousin Ryan..."Prayers for my family today!" I was a little concerned, but knew it could be anything, really. Seeing no other details, I was certain it wasn't serious. I mean, I'd have been called if something was really wrong...right? But I couldn't get the invisible brick that had suddenly appeared off of my chest. I texted my cousin April a quick and simple text: "What is going on??"

My phone rang in like two minutes. April didn't sound right. She seemed nervous, hesitant, like she didn't really want to talk to me. I asked her if she knew what was going on, and she was evasive. I told her I'd seen Ryan and Kim's posts, and I knew something was up. Then she asked me if Kelly was there with me...what the heck did that mean? And why ask me that unless she had something to say that was going to rock me to the core? I told her to tell me what she knew, and she burst into tears. I asked her if it was Uncle Jim, and how bad was it. Then she blurted it out. "He's gone, Ammy. I'm so sorry. I didn't want to be the one to tell you."

My Uncle Jim. Gone? I felt lightheaded, like the world had tipped just ever so slightly. I heard someone bawling convulsively, crying so loudly and so hard that it was frightening...then I realized it was me. Kelly came running from our room, and I couldn't even tell him at first. I don't remember the rest of the conversation with April, or what Kelly had to say, or even where the kids were at the moment. I just fell to pieces. Uncle Jim was gone...and nobody had let me know.

There aren't many memories of my childhood that don't revolve around time spent with my Aunt Trudi and Uncle Jim and my cousins, Missy, Jackie and Ryan. Camping trips, summer weekends on the sailboat, countless nights at each other's houses. We were constantly together. I wasn't really the youngest of three, I was kind of the youngest of six. I was as close to Aunt Trudi and Uncle Jim as my own parents. In fact, as a young child, I barely discerned between them. Whoever was closest was who took care of my scraped knee or bad dream, and whichever lap was open was the one I climbed onto.

Uncle Jim was one of a kind. He was gruff and cranky, and ornery as the dickens. He had a goofy sense of humor and a quick temper. He could argue with the best of them, and he enjoyed riling people up, then sitting back and grinning. I remember so many things about him, but a few memories stand out brighter than most. 

I can think back to times at the Blue Hole, swimming with him when the big kids took off to explore without me. He was the oddest swimmer ever! He would lay on his back, but be in an almost upright position, where all you could see of him was his head, neck and feet. He would paddle around in circles singing, "Do-doo-do, doo-de-doo!" It was just weird, but it always made me giggle. He'd take me to look for rocks and dig for worms, anything to keep me occupied and out of Mom and Aunt Trudi's hair while they got a meal ready. 

I can remember him getting out of the shower at their house and me rushing to climb on his lap so I could "help" him comb his hair - Uncle Jim wore a comb-over, pompadour-like hairdo till I was in my late teens. When it was wet, it was well past his shoulders. And I remember when he finally buzzed his hair for the first time, I was spitting mad! He just didn't look right at all!

I remember him kissing Aunt Trudi in their kitchen, grabbing her and making her dance with him while she was trying to cook chili. He could irritate the daylights out of her, and she'd always snap at him when he was bothering her...but when he'd walk back to the living room, they'd both be smiling. 

I remember he and Daddy arguing about...oh, everything. He really did love to get Daddy riled up! They were so much alike, but had such differing opinions on things. It would all be in good fun, but when Uncle Jim would say, "Now see here, little brother...", I knew the joking was over and he meant business.

I remember him making the most ridiculous faces. He was always crossing his eyes and sticking out his tongue at me. I was a...pouty times, and he could always get me out of a foul mood with his goofy looks. (In my defense, I pouted because I was CONTINUALLY picked on and left out by the older kids, just an FYI!) And he always took my side. I was the baby, after all. ;)

I remember the first summer I brought a boyfriend to a family gathering. He scared the daylights out of poor Chris with threats of bodily harm while we swam at a family gathering at our house - he wasn't thrilled with my bathing suit of choice, or my boyfriends' appreciation of said swimsuit. He could be pretty intimidating, and he enjoyed the role!

I remember taking my senior pictures over to Greenfield for Uncle Jim and Aunt Trudi to pick out their choices. Aunt Trudi picked out her favorites, and he hated every one of them! He said she was picking the froo froo ones, and they didn't look anything like me. He chose one of me in my Dallas Cowboys hat and sweatshirt and my hair pulled back in a ponytail. He looked at her and said, "Now THIS one is Ammy!" That was the end of that - they both got the 8x10 THEY wanted!

I remember my graduation day. He and Aunt Trudi pulled me away from everyone at the party and took me to Mom and Dad's room alone. They handed me an envelope with $100 in it. I knew what a sacrifice that was, and I was so overcome. I told him it was too much, and he just shook his head with tears in his eyes. He told me how proud he was of me, and that me going to college was a dream he was glad to see coming true. This was his part of supporting me in that dream.

I remember my wedding day. More tears. More hugs and him telling me he was proud of me. Then at my reception, when a fast oldie came on. I was dancing in a group of girlfriends when I felt someone grab my hand from behind. I turned around to see Uncle Jim grinning from ear to ear. He pulled me onto the dance floor, and we jitterbugged like there was no tomorrow! I'll never forget that dance as long as I live.

As the years flew by, priorities changed. All us kids got married, had families of our own. Uncle Jim and I didn't see eye to eye on a lot of things. His outspokenness and frank opinions didn't always come across with love. I had my feelings hurt on numerous occasions. His health wasn't the best, and he was miserable much of the time, putting him in horrible depressed moods. We grew apart. When they moved away from Walnut Grove, I never imagined so much time could go past so quickly, and that I'd not have time to see him again. I can't change it now, but I am so sorry that I didn't make it a priority to stop by. To spend time with him. To let him state his opinions and complaints, and just grin and bear it. I hate that my older kids don't have many good memories of being around him because he felt so badly, and my littler ones don't have memories of him at all. Those will be my biggest regrets. But through all of that, I can see past the recent years and go back to my childhood and remember him at his best and share my sweet memories of him with them.

The funeral is over. It was a good turnout. All six of the surviving siblings were there, and all but four of the nieces and nephews came. A few people shared some memories and laughs. Some beautiful songs were sung. Aunt Trudi clung to Cadie, finding comfort in her new little life coming so close to Uncle Jim's passing. I just sat there with continual tears flowing down my face. More people stood and shared. I couldn't do it. I am sad that I didn't. But I am glad to have shared them here, now. It isn't much, but it's my tribute to my uncle, my godfather, and one of the most important men in my life.

Rest in peace, Uncle Jim. I love you, so very much.


  1. I so didn't Hadley that well... I SO didn't want to have to tell you! I sure do miss him and wish I could tell him how much I love him!

  2. Thank you Ammy! We all love him very much