Saturday, July 16, 2005

Got a call yesterday that my Uncle Fred was in the hospital and wasn't going to make it. I made my way to his bedside, where he lay, eyes in a dead stare at the ceiling, his chest heaving to catch a breath. Oh how soon these things come.

Uncle Fred was the one with the quick laugh, razor sharp wit and the eternal upbeat point of view. At my father's wake, he told the story of as a child growing up how he wanted to emulate a certain popular cowboy of the time. He talked my father into stealing a boat moored on the banks of the St. Joe River and taking it downriver to the Harrison flats, where he heard there were wild horses. They could get a horse each, turn the boat around and be back before anyone knew they were gone.

He was 6 and my father was 4 and the year was 1923.

So they head downriver on this tugboat and the motion of the boat puts them both to sleep. They were awakened when the boat didn't take a turn in the river and went into the bank with a loud thump. Uncle Fred said his first vision upon realizing the futility of their situation was that of my Grandfather, waiting for him upstream with a stick. He continued with a wonderful story of how they got towed back up the river, their dread of the anticipated punishment and the innocent, illogical, highly creative musings of two little boys on one of the first of their many lifetime adventures. He wrapped up with noting that the first thing they saw when they got back to the dock was my grandfather, with a stick. And my grandmother by his side , saying, "Now Fred....."

We laughed until we cried. And it felt so good to momentarily put the grief and anguish of our father's death behind us. What an exquisite gift that Uncle Fred gave that night.

Uncle Fred, my dad, and Uncle Ed all went to the university in Moscow, where they lived in the Sigma Chi house. I can just imagine that dynasty. I have a picture of my dad's first car, which he went in on with this two brothers when they were in college. It was during the depression and times were very tough, but these three boys had no knowledge of anything different than if you want something, you make it happen. There was no financial aid, no anxious parents visiting on Parents' Weekend, no homesickness. They were at school to get an education and it was up to them to make the most of it. And besides, they were very lucky to be there. The value of education and educated thinking was passed on to their children and surely is the greatest of their legacies.

So as Uncle Fred worked his way to his new life, I urged him on. I reminded him that my dad and Hap Murphy and all his good friends were waiting for him. I told him that I would stay and take care of things here but that I'd be there soon, too. I told him what a good, good job he had done, for us all, and begged him softly to go. And then I sang, much as I did when I was trying to coax my babies to sleep. He relaxed and listened and when finally I began, "Here we have Idaho...", he died. And as I closed his eyes for the final time, a tear slid down his cheek.

The challenge for people of faith is to be fully present in the moment and not despair.

--The Reverend Bishop William Skylstad.
The 'Kan EWA

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