Monday, August 31, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Saturday, August 15, 2009
My great Uncle Carl died today. I was shocked at how emotional I became when I heard the news. For a few moments, I couldn’t stop crying. I’m not sure if I cried for myself, for my aunt Carole who had just celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary with the man she loved, or for the fact that the world had lost such a beautiful man.
In truth, I hadn’t seen Uncle Carl in just over 10 years. Since Great Grandma and Papa John’s death, we no longer had much of a reason to visit Illinois where my mom grew up and Uncle Carl & Aunt Carole still lived. While I hadn’t seen him in a very long time, he’s still one of those relatives I felt pretty close to. Mostly because as a kid he made such an impact in my life.
Uncle Carl was a farmer, and looked every bit the part. He was a big man who usually wore overalls and always had rosy cheeks. He was very much a “Northerner”, quiet and reserved, but had a laugh that would fill a room. I never heard him raise his voice, and he never seemed like the kind of man to lose his temper. He was the personification of a “gentle soul”.
Growing up, Mom and I would usually make a trip up North every 3 or 4 years. Every visit we’d go to Carole & Carl’s farm after Sunday church for dinner and homemade ice cream. When I was in elementary school, I remember him giving me my first tour of the farm. We walked out into the cornfields where he showed me how to shuck corn. I took a ride on his tractor, amazed that it had a nice radio and air conditioning. When I was in high school, he drove me out to the Grain Mill where I got my first ever stock lesson. He explained that you had to plan your trip right, because some days were better than others for selling your crops. And that trip determined the rest of your year, because farmers only got paid once, and that money had to last for an entire year (which is why farmers wives had to be self-appointed accountants).
After high school, Mom and I made another trip up North. The family drove to Camargo, Illinois where the Douglas County Museum had set up a Korean War Exhibit. It was at that time I found out Uncle Carl had been in the Korean War. He was a conscientious objector at his time of his enlistment and went on to become a medic. He and I walked the museum together while he humbly told me the story of how he earned the Silver Star Medal (he earned many others, I later learned). I remember stopping after the end of the story and saying “Uncle Carl, you’re a true hero!” He turned a brighter shade of red, looked down and said “No honey, I just did what I had to do at the time. There were very little heroics involved.”
I have one other memory of Uncle Carl that stands out in my mind. He and Aunt Carole had driven my Great Grandma and Papa John down for their last visit to Texas. We were all having dinner at Mom’s house and Uncle Carl said out of nowhere “Ya know Taunya, you have a very close family member who was a part of the KKK.” He sort-of chuckled as the shock set in. “Who?” I asked in utter amazement. He chuckled again as he looked into the other room where my gentle Great Grandma sat. “NO WAY!” I said as I ran to ask Great Grandma about the details. “Oh Carl,” she said with her tickled grin, “was there any reason to share that with the family? Don’t worry honey, we weren’t against the blacks back then. We didn’t even have any blacks in Camargo, Illinois. We were angry at the Catholics.” Amazed, I asked “Did you burn crosses in people’s yards?” She laughed. “No honey, the KKK was about bake sales. We baked cookies. Now what your grandfather did back then is his business, and he was probably right to take it to the grave with him.” We then launched into one of the many history lessons Uncle Carl was known for.
My heart hurts that I will never again have a chance to benefit from Uncle Carl’s wisdom and grace. That I will never again feel the pride that came from eliciting a chuckle from him. That I will never sit next to him as he churns homemade ice cream or ride along side him in a tractor. My heart breaks for his family; my great aunt who never had any love for a man other than him and my cousins who had the honor of having him for a father and grandfather. I know how large the hole in my heart feels today, I can’t fathom how large theirs is. All I do know is that we were all blessed to have known such a wonderful man.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Saturday, August 8, 2009
She pulled into the driveway next to the old yellow station wagon. A familiar feeling of dread came over her as she rested both hands on the steering wheel and sat staring at the small white paint-chipped house in front of her. The house that was once bright, well manicured and full of life. The house that held a childhood of memories, ranging from the joyously good to the depressingly bad. Images flowed through her mind like a quick slideshow. Her and her best friend running through the lush green grass and sliding head first onto the slip-and-slide. The morning she tried to make her parents breakfast in bed, only to catch the old green toaster on fire and woke them up with a shrieking smoke alarm instead. Evenings spent popping popcorn, making milkshakes and sitting down to watch Wrestlemania, while her mother groaned and her father rubbed his hands together in excitement. Those memories dissolved into the later years. The years of yelling, crying, and slammed doors. Her smile quickly faded.
She slowly got out of her car looking around. Time had not been kind to her neighborhood. It was located in the older part of town. Once a neighborhood filled with the sound of children laughing, weed eaters weeding and retirees pushing their pecan rollers on the ground, was now littered with the sound of cars bumping their bass, children crying and a couple yelling down the road. She walked up the cracked sidewalk to the tattered screen door. She remembered when she had accidently fallen and pushed the corner of the screen out of it’s frame. It had been years ago and time had succeeded in dislodging more of it so that it now looked like a large turned down page of a book. Fitting, perhaps.
She put her key into the lock and took a deep breath. This was not her life anymore. She knew that, yet still she could feel the dread rising, causing her breath to become short and a lump start to form in her throat. She reminded herself that she had successfully escaped this place. That it was just a chapter of her life. A chapter that served to remind her what can happen when people stop trying. A cautionary tale on giving up and checking out. The all-too-familiar snapshot of a family unraveling. Taking another deep breath she turned the key, braced herself for the overwhelming feeling of despair and walked in.