Sunday, December 04, 2016

Grieving greatness

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There are some people who are larger than life, and if you are fortunate enough to cross paths with one you’ll find it difficult to let them go.

My uncle was a great man. He was well-respected in the community, and for good reason. In the 1970s, he owned a junkyard and auto shop. I’m not sure when he actually opened the shop, but I am certain he has worked on the vehicle of someone in every family in this small county over the decades. Some people lived in various properties he owned. Some people bought barbecue from him every Fourth of July during the years when he sat around the pit all night and tended to meats. No matter how they met, I am sure he left a lasting impression. He was truly larger than life.

I have referred to Uncle Junior as the ‘man of steel’ many times over the last week. My own father was disabled all my life. I was accustomed to him being in the hospital often. My grandparents raised me, mostly, and I was fortunate. My grandfather and my uncle were both ‘men of steel’ - unbreakable, unstoppable, and possessing a strength that seemed superhuman to me. There was nothing they couldn’t do. Well, my grandfather was not the least bit mechanically-inclined, but uncle Junior more than made up for his shortcomings in that department. The thing about seeing them as super humans is that it’s difficult to see them in a weakened state. It is a slap in the face, reinforcing our own mortality by demonstrating that even the strongest of the strong can easily be taken to their knees. Our Superman has fallen, and the man of steel is no more. He was the last great man in our family, and we will forever feel the void he leaves.

My cousin Becky and I were best friends in high school and spent a great deal of time together. I know we probably worked his nerves a great deal, but I admired and respected him. When people asked me who my family was, I always proudly introduced myself as the niece of Leo Jr. That was how I identified. He knew everything, and he wasn’t afraid to tell you how he saw it. I can’t count the many times he told me he tried to tell me something but I had my head stuck up a certain body cavity. He was always right, and as bad as I hated him always being right it is one of the things I will miss most.

At the moment, I’m flooded with memories. The shop’s smell of GOJO and grease and the Snap-On tools pinup calendars on the wall, his smirk when he knew he was about to say ‘I told you so,’ how tickled I was when I realized he wore his pants like my grandfather and pulled them up the same way, him telling me Dodd was German for ‘short and round,’ him telling me about the lucky shop cat who jumped through the fan and lost an ear but lived, the steps he dug into the side of the hill to go from the house to the shop, and his infamous ‘sumb*tch.’ There are so many more. I dedicated my first book to my immediate family, but my second book was dedicated to him alone - not my father or grandfather, but my beloved uncle.

In recent years, I always gravitated to him when their was a family function. Our family functions were limited to funerals, so I called him my funeral buddy. We always talked, and even during the worst situations I looked forward to our conversations. And now, I keep asking myself who I’ll sit with.

Our man of steel has transcended this life. I hope Superman will be there holding the door for us when we join him on the other side.

With heavy heart,