There’s this thing that happens when you’re little. You see grown ups as the big people. They are the ones in charge. And then there’s this group within the grown ups. I think of them as legends. They have silver or white hair, and you can see the years of life written across their foreheads, and the memories of their childhoods dance upon their smiles. Maybe it’s because you only see them at Holidays, family reunions or those rare times when they show up at your house or you show up at their house. Maybe it’s because there is something about them that seems larger than life itself. They are legends.
Then there is another group within that group. If they’re fun to hang out with, they become even more than legends. You hang on the words they say. You get excited when they talk to you. And it is a privilege to be in their presence. They aren’t just grown ups, or even legends. They are more, because they mean more. They are heroes.
Heroes endure. They don’t just take up space in your life, they represent life. They show you what life is about. The simplicity of enjoying a cold turkey sandwich after Thanksgiving, the classic old TV shows that you only watch when you’re at their house, and the twinkle that seems to be in their eye even in the most trying of circumstances.
My Uncle John told me, “Put the good Lord first.” I believed him. Maybe because of the silver in his hair, or the serious edge in his eyes. It might be because he received a Purple Heart in WWII. Or maybe it was because he was the only man I knew who wore suspenders, and he never had to explain what they were. They were just part of him.
I used to watch Home Alone at Uncle John and Aunt Johnnie Mae’s house, at least every Thanksgiving we were there. I loved going to Kansas City for Thanksgiving. Uncle John had that one clock in his living room, and would remind us that Aunt Johnnie Mae was the beautiful young redhead he fell in love with all those years ago.
Uncle John always wanted to watch South Pacific, that old musical where he would lean forward from his recliner and say to my sisters and I, “That’s old Bloody Mary there.” Bloody Mary was a character in South Pacific. The name scared me when I was little, but she was just kind of an odd woman who sang in the movie. At least that is how I remember her. And it wouldn’t really matter except that it mattered to Uncle John so I always remember him pointing out when she was on screen. We also always watched Life with Father at Uncle John’s house.
When I was growing up, he and Aunt Johnnie Mae lives in Raytown, a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. When we would go to their house, Uncle John would always go on a family walk with us. If my mom or sisters walked on the outside of the sidewalk, Uncle John would lovingly pull them to the other side of him, placing himself between them and any traffic, while he was saying, “Get over here young lady, you’re not for sale.” Uncle John believed in chivalry, and was a protector. He never had his own kids, so he was always the special Uncle to his siblings kids and all of the grand kids. My mom and her siblings still talk about the root beer floats Uncle John would buy for them when they were little. When Grandpa and Grandpa, Uncle Paul, Aunt Ruthie, and Uncle Lou would talk about Uncle John, I never questioned how much they cared for him. We all loved Uncle John. We all still do.
Uncle John wasn’t just a grown up, or a legend. He was a hero. And even if he breathed his last breath in this life, he continues on because he is a hero and heroes pass the test of time. They become the strength we remember, the honor we respect, the love we cherish, and the faith we carry forward.
I love you Uncle John. I will miss you. I am thankful to have you in my heart, and look forward to seeing you in heaven. I’m sure when I do, you’ll have that smile on your face you always had, and you’ll look at me and say, “Isn’t this great? This is what happens when you put the good Lord first.”