I’ve never had any relatives in my own generation. My dad was an orphan and my mom was an only child, whose dad died when she was 12. All of my relatives were older than I. For me, aunts and uncles weren’t relatives of my parents’ generation. They were old!
Uncle Ellis and Aunt Frances were my favorite aunt and uncle. They lived in a small town in Ohio. It was an easy day trip, so we visited them several times a year.
Uncle Ellis was a big lump of a man with bulging eyes from a thyroid condition. He always wore overalls. Although he had been something of a farmer once before my time, he had gone to college and got a degree. He just preferred the earth and simpler things.
Every time we got in my parents’ station wagon to go home, he would walk slowly to the car with an “evil” smile. My sister and I would try to hide behind the other. We knew what was coming; our favorite game.
“I’m gonna getcha!”
He’d reach into the back seat through a window and give one of us a “horse bite.” That strong hand would grab a thigh just above the knee and squeeze just enough. Even now, I can’t decide whether it hurt or tickled or what. We always knew it was coming. We always loved the game.
And Uncle Ellis.
My best memory of him was whenever he prayed before a meal. It was always the same, and always a little different. Aunt Frances would have a big farmer’s meal for us with nice plates, table cloth, and great home cooking. We’d all sit, hands folded, as Uncle Ellis took his seat at the head of the table. I remember his raspy voice somehow turn mellow as he gave thanks for the things of the day. He always asked God to bless this food and this time to the nourishment of our bodies and souls. Those are still the most beautiful prayers I can ever remember.
The day he died was the day I “became a man.” You see, with so many elderly relatives of older generations, I spent a lot of time at funeral homes and cemeteries. I think we all get something in our heads that we decide will make us a grownup someday. For me, I knew I’d be a man when I could finally be a pall bearer and carry one of my relatives to their rest.
That day came when Uncle Ellis needed someone to take him to the cemetery. It was the first time I carried a coffin. It couldn’t have been a better man to make me a man.
To this day I pray his prayer. When we pray at our meals, I give thanks for the things of the day and pray God to bless this food and this time to the nourishment of our bodies and souls.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…” Hebrews 12:1-3