I had written a post about how well my little seedlings were doing, but between writing it this morning and posting time, I received word that my Uncle passed away. It made me want to spend a little time with him in my head as my way of saying good bye.
I called him Uncle, but really he was my grandfather’s cousin, however his personality was such that it spanned generations. He was a loud Virginian, with a deep booming voice and a way of talking that entranced and delighted that if you didn’t agree with his many opinions, you still smiled listening.
As with the majority of my relatives, they weren’t an active part of my daily life due to distance, but all of my interactions with my Uncle Tom bring a smile to my face in retrospect.
The first memory I have of him was visiting him and his wife Elinor at their house. At this point, their children were grown (daughter Heidi, who has always been like a cousin to me lived near by) and still they had the most amazing doll house. It was so many years ago, I was probably in 5th grade, so probably the late 80’s. I can’t tell you what my Uncle Tom did as a job, but even then, he was following the stock market. He asked me if I wanted to see his computer, asked me a company I was interested in. I brought up telephones (because of how frequently I was on the telephone!!) and he started explaining telephone stocks. Imagine that? Imagine sitting a 10 year old down and explaining stocks to them! I didn’t understand a single word or concept, but loved that he was willing to engage with me at that level.
He called me the Artful Dodger, the leader of the gang of children criminals in Charles Dickens’s novel, Oliver Twist. I don’t know, maybe he gave that nickname to all the children he interacted with (except my sister :-)). But it made me feel special. And it made me feel that he saw the same twinkle in my eye that I saw in his.
He came to stay with us, I think enroute to somewhere else (because I can’t imagine he had any business anywhere near our small town in Pennsylvania). He had to share a bathroom with my sister and I as we prepared for school. And he sang. At 6:30 in the morning, he was happy and cheerful enough to sing while he got dressed. Let me repeat, at 6:30 IN THE MORNING, there was this loud Virginian, with his deep booming voice, SINGING! It was beyond horrifying at the time, but brings a chuckle to me now.
He was a loving and generous soul. As a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), he and my Aunt Elinor remained closely connected to it, frequently adopting cadets and helping take care of them as they struggled with adapting to this new life. He and another VMI graduate established a College Orientation Workshop for minority and at risk students. Actually, there are a ton of great things he and Aunt Elinor did in contributing to the world at large.
But to me, he was Uncle. A character. A bit of a clown. And an inspirer.
Goodbye Uncle Tom. Thank you for being an honest, hardworking and loving example for my life.