Saturday, May 6, 2017

A Eulogy For My Uncle Harold

My dad and his brother, Harold, were real characters. Neither ever met a stranger, both always lived on our family farm, and even in their seventies, still liked new toys.

Dad on the red lawnmower and Harold on the green one.

Uncle Harold died a couple of weeks ago. When I got the call, I could hardly believe it-- death had snuck up on me once again. I dreamed Harold's eulogy and woke with tears on my face. It was a privilege to be his niece.

Uncle Harold

When people ask me how I came to be a writer, I tell them it’s because I grew up listening to great storytelling. My dad and Uncle Harold were two of the biggest storytellers I ever knew. If you asked them a question about when they were young, one story flowed into the next, and pretty soon a whole afternoon had passed by.

My earliest memory of Uncle Harold is in Ma Williams’s kitchen. He pulled me on his lap and asked, “Who’s your favorite uncle?” I giggled and said, “Billy.” He proceeded to tickle and torture me, as I went through, the other names, “Junior, Jimmy, Howard,” until finally I howled through my giggles, “Uncle Harold.” “You finally got that right,” he said, “and don’t forget it!”

When I was growing up, Uncle Harold was in and out of our house nearly every day. He loved to come just as we were finishing supper. He’d eye the leftover stewed potatoes and biscuits, and Mama would always tell him to help himself. There was no such thing as a leftover if Harold was in the vicinity!

Though he acted tough, Harold had a tender heart. The first time our family was actually scarred by death was when Uncle Junior died. We were all gathered in the funeral home, and it’s hard to say who was crying the hardest. It felt as if my heart would break, when suddenly I was wrapped in a pair of arms as strong as a bear’s—Uncle Harold’s. “It’s not fair,” I sobbed. “No, it sure ain’t,” he said, “but Junior wouldn’t want you to cry.”

Uncle Harold loved kids. When I’d visit after Alex was born, Harold could hardly wait to see how much he’d grown. And Harold never visited empty-handed. He’d always pull a dollar out of his pocket, and when Alex got older, the dollar turned into a ten or a twenty, as he asked him, “Have you got a girlfriend yet?”

In later years, my memories are of Harold pulling up to visit in his golf cart. He was like a kid with a new toy. And his smile was always biggest when I’d ask about Cleo and Cross. He loved bragging about what his grandkids had been up to.

Last year my dad was in the hospital for over a month. Mama and I were struggling with whether or not to remove the ventilator. Uncle Harold said to me, “Mack wouldn’t want to live like this. If he could, he’d fight that ventilator with everything that’s in him.” After that, I knew what we had to do, because outside of my mama, dad’s brothers knew him best.

When I got the call that Uncle Harold had passed away, I could hardly believe it. He always loomed larger than life, but here’s what brings me comfort. Uncle Harold lived a long, wonderful life. Kelly took pictures of his last Easter, and the smile on his face showed me he was happy until the very end.

As we’ve lost more and more members of our family: Junior, Ma and Pop Williams, Eric, Nelda, Jim, Robin, Tony, Little James, Abby, Max, and now Harold, I’ve gotten this image in my head. Ma Williams is standing in front of her old wood cook stove. She just pulled a chicken pie from the oven. The dining room table is loaded with a chocolate pound cake and all sorts of sonkers and custards. Some family members have arrived early, and they’re waiting for the rest of us, but there’s no need to rush—we’ve got all of eternity.

I love you, Uncle Harold. Rest in peace.

Your favorite niece, Shannon






2 comments:

  1. Beautiful job Shannon......my tears are still rolling.

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  2. Beautiful, just plain beautiful!

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