The kids and I just returned from the funeral of my great uncle, the only male left of the thirteen children born to his mother. There are two aunts left to that group of siblings and their state of mind tells me it won't be long until we bid them goodbye as well.
It was very sad for me to say goodbye to Uncle Ronald. He was a quirky guy who never married, never had any children of his own. When I was growing up, I remember that he would come over to my Grandparents house at least three times a week at 5:00, the time my Grandmother always had dinner on the table. (He was my Grandfather's brother.) He'd pull into the driveway and she'd say something to the effect of, "There's Ronald! Always showing up right at dinner time!" He'd come in and act genuinely surprised that he'd shown up just in time for dinner and then take his place at the table. After we were done with the meal, he'd fall asleep on the couch for a few minutes and then head out to another family member's house just in time to catch dinner with them.
Many in our family spoke of his quirky behavior as an annoyance but I thought he hung the moon. Once, he came over and picked me up from my grandparent's house and took me to dinner and the circus. He acted as if it meant nothing to him but that he merely did it out of some obligation to be nice to me. I knew better. Under that tough exterior was a man who made sure I had every single Shirt Tales stuffed animal from Hardee's kid's meals once he saw how happy the one I got the night of the circus made me. He'd show up with one hiding behind his back that he knew I didn't have and when he'd pull it out and be met with my squeals and hugs, he'd shrug me off and like I was making a big deal out of nothing. But then I'd catch his grin and know in my heart that I'd made his day by being so grateful.
As I got older, he was known to be old and grouchy to the kids in our extended family. I loved him even so. In high school, he needed a place to stay and my parents took him in. I can't remember the circumstances but I swear to this day I think he was just lonely and the chaos of a house full of people was a comfort to him. He lived with my parents off and on throughout the years and even when not living there, he was a constant at the dinner table. He'd amuse all of us with stories about his life and the many, many dirty jokes he told.
He taught me all kinds of things. Some, I'm inclined not to share because it would make me blush. A sampling of things that I think I can share? He used to tell me to say, "One smart fella, he felt smart. Two smart fellas, they both felt smart. Three smart fellas, they all felt smart." Every.single.time. I'd mess it up. Still do. You have no idea how hard it was to type that without messing it up. Let me know how you do.
The big one that remained a joke between us until the day he died was a song he taught me. He would sing it with me and I loved it. The chorus went like this,
"If You See Kay, tell her I love her."
I would belt that out and no one ever said a word. Until. I was in high school and at a youth meeting. I started singing that song to myself and my pastor's wife was appalled. I still didn't get it. She explained and I called him the second I got home. You don't get it either? Just keep singing it until you do.
This whole thing has brought about so much emotion for me. My husband's grandfather is in poor health right now. He's in his late 80's and one of the most loving yet strong people I've ever known. My own Grandmother had open heart surgery last week and is already home and defying all odds given by the doctors. We lost my husband's father this past year in a horrible accident. I feel that a generation I love so dearly is dying.
I was the only child in our family for so long that I was a mini-adult and would rather have spent my time with grown-ups than kids. To this day, I'd rather sit in a room chatting with people born generations ahead of me than to sit with my own peers. I'm sad that I'm losing them. When they are all gone, who will be the hard workers, the ones who know what it's like to work so hard and with such loyalty for your entire lives and not care that you'll never be wealthy because of it? When they are all gone, who will wear suits and ties to church? Who will be willing to pass down the legacy of what a real family is to my kids? Who will tell stories, with tears in their eyes, of what it's like to fall in love and marry so young yet stay with the one person you have adored for so long until the day God parts you? Who? Is my generation ready to step up? I hope so because I want my kids to experience the relationships that I've cherished so much from the generation that seems to be leaving me behind. I want them to know the stories about where our family came from and how they struggled to get to where we are now. I need them to know.
Goodbye Uncle Ronald, and if you see Kay, tell her I love her.