Life definitely has its ironies.
A week ago Thursday I celebrated getting my first dose of the Moderna COVID vaccine, a sure sign we’re reaching the beginning of the end of the pandemic. That same day I learned my last surviving uncle, James Champion, had died the night before from complication of COVID-19. Uncle James had just celebrated his 90th birthday, and before contracting the virus he had been doing well.
The news left me feeling a mix of sadness and anger, and the sobering reminder of my own mortality.
In an irony all its own, Mom told me Uncle James had said he hoped to live to be 90. Then, he said, he would be happy. As it turned out he died less than a month after his birthday.
My uncles held a special place in my life, as I’m sure they do to most men and boys. As you mature, your uncles help show you the way in the world, serving as role models that truly make your life more complete.
I was blessed with many uncles, a dozen to be exact. Some were blood relatives, others my uncles through marriage. Some I knew better than others, mostly because many lived a distance away and I didn’t see them often. Uncle James was one of these, as he resided in Louisiana and later Oklahoma. Even so, when I did see him we instantly bonded. He was a very open and genuine person, and took an interest in me as I was growing up.
Uncle James and his wife, my Aunt Evelyn, were very close, and now in death they are again together. Aunt Evelyn passed only months ago. Because we were friends on social media I came to know Aunt Evelyn more closely in recent years, and I miss her keen insight and her sense of humor.
I had two sets of uncles who were brothers, Bob and Don Zwayer who married Dad’s sisters and Jimmy and Freddie Rumph who married two of Mom’s sisters. Uncle Bob and Uncle Don have been gone for a number of years, but Uncle Jimmy has been gone less than three years and Uncle Freddie for less than a year.
It was easy to see that Uncle Don and Uncle Bob were brothers. Each had a warm sense of humor and took an interest in me while I was growing up, and I recall them fondly.
Two of my uncles were Dad’s step brothers. I didn’t know Maurice well, as he lived a distance away, but I knew Richard – Uncle Dick Thierry – very well. He was a respected member of the Williams County Sheriff’s Department when I joined The Bryan Times’ staff as a young editor, and the sheriff’s department staff treated me exceedingly well when it became known Dick was my uncle.
Last year I purchased an older rototiller from the estate sale after Dick’s wife, Patsy, died. I would not normally have purchased an older machine, but I knew that if Uncle Dick owned the rototiller it was well cared for. Just the other day I gassed up the machine and cleaned it off, and even though it had not been used in years it started on the third pull.
That’s just amazing, and every time I till the garden I will smile and think of Uncle Dick.
Mom was from the south, and each summer as a child we would visit Mom’s family at Phenix City, Alabama. During those visits I would be in seventh heaven when I got to hang out at the Pure Oil service station owned by Uncle Jimmy and Uncle Henry, Mom’s brother. My love of old vehicles grew in part from this experience. I felt quite grown up when I could hand a wrench to Uncle Henry while he worked on a car, watch Uncle Jimmy gas up a vehicle and wash the windshield, in the days before self-service gas pumps.
Uncle Freddie and I shared a deep appreciation for history. I relished the times he took me to various museums and historic sites around Phenix City, and when I was older I treasured the opportunity to show him the historic locations in northwest Ohio.
My Uncle Henry and his younger brother, Uncle Ray, knew how to enjoy life and at times could be a bit on the wild side. I’m smiling now as I write this, reliving some wonderful memories that are perhaps best not shared here but added a dimension to my life I will always treasure.
It is very difficult for me to fathom that my uncles all are gone now. Of the dozen aunts that I once had, only four of them remain with us.
I can thank God they all were part of my life and always will remain very much a part of who I am.
Don Allison is an author, historian and retired editor of The Bryn Times. He can be reached at www.fadedbanner.com.