My uncle died unexpectedly this week. He was a good man, with a quick smile and teasing manner. In all my years, I never heard him say anything negative about anyone. He was a gentle man, soft-spoken, a hard worker, and he lived like God wishes us to live. He was always willing to help, to do whatever someone needed. He was special; and we all loved him.
The small funeral home in the small town of Sumrall, Mississippi is not elaborate like those in cities. It's simple. The employees are friendly and know just what to say to the immediate family members, because they usually know the family members personally.
I spent many weeks during the summer at my Uncle Eddie's home. I remember when he built his home. Yes, he built his home, using some materials collected from homes being restored or torn down in the "old" part of Hattiesburg. He labored on the house during his spare time, which Uncle Eddie never really had spare time. Besides a full time job, he had cows and usually a garden. Not your average "home" garden, this garden fed the whole extended family living close enough to come "pick" what needed to be picked and that Uncle Eddie couldn't use. My father and all my aunts and uncles living in the area filled their freezers every year from Uncle Eddie's garden.
When I was about seven, I remember "helping" him "shoo" the cows from one pasture to another. I was a "city" girl; raised in Hattiesburg, which really wasn't that big during that time. But I definitely didn't have much experience herding cows or spreading hay for them during the winter. The first time I ever rode a horse was at his house. I rode behind his oldest daughter, a year older than me in age and years wiser in the ways of the country. I was scared to death as the horse calmly walked around the cleared land around my uncle's house. As we rounded one corner the horse decided it was going under a big oak limb. My cousin ducked, I didn't. After he made sure nothing was broken, chuckling my uncle gently carried me back over to that horse, me screaming that I didn't want to ride any more.
Uncle Eddie told me "When you get thrown off a horse, you have to get right back on, or you never will." He put me back on the horse's back and told me that when I showed him I was really having fun I could get down. My butt was sore for days after that, whether from the fall or from riding for so long I don't know; but that day I learned that when you don't succeed at something, don't be afraid to try again. You will eventually be successful.
The lesson I learned that day has helped many times in my life; times I was ready to give up and turn away. Then I would hear Uncle Eddie's voice saying, "When you get thrown off a horse, you have to get right back on, or you never will," and I would find the strength to get back up on whatever "horse" it was at the moment.
My cousins and I used to roam for hours through the woods on the land surrounding the house. I felt safe in "Uncle Eddie's woods." Every Sunday my family would "go to the country," which meant we were going to see my Uncle Eddie and his family. Every Easter was spent in that welcoming home. Everyone came; uncles, aunts, and cousins would come from as far away as Chicago and Miami.
We would have the traditional "pot luck" lunch and eat until we could hardly move. Then the kids would be secluded inside the house while the adults, and later the older kids, would hide eggs for the small ones to find. I don't ever remember a year that all the eggs were found. I don't know if Easter will be celebrated there this year; and it saddens me.
The best memories of my childhood were spent at Uncle Eddie's and Aunt Margie's house; from hunting Easter eggs; "snipe hunting;" roaming the woods; basketball, football, and baseball games with my cousins; eating sugar cane on the back porch (which had just been cut from the fields); sleepovers during the summer and sometimes weekends (when my grades were good) during the school year; and yes even picking peas and butterbeans out of Uncle Eddie's garden.
We buried him today. The funeral was nice, as funerals go. The weather was cold, wet, and gray; reflecting the feelings of those who were grieving the loss of this extraordinary man. The music was beautiful, the flower arrangements colorful and fragrant, and the sermon was nice. But I would have liked the preacher to have said more about how Uncle Eddie touched all of our lives. He spoke of how he was a good Christian and how the day before his death, my uncle was at the hospital visiting the sick.
I hate funerals. I know they are necessary for the living to say goodbye to the loved one and to provide "closure." I never know what to say to people, so usually I just hug them and let that do my talking. I was doing okay until I walked over to my Aunt Margie. As I hugged her, she told me "He was always worrying about you. He said just the other day that he knew something was wrong right now with you and that he was really worried and wished he could do something."
The floodgates opened and my tears started flowing. It had been several months since I'd seen my uncle; and in that time, yes, several things had gone wrong in my life. But not even my own parents knew about it; so how did he? He didn't say much, and he wasn't college educated, but he was the personification of wisdom. Yes, he was a good Christian as the preacher said, but he was so much more to those whose lives he touched. So even though he's no longer of this world, he still lives in those whose lives he touched. And he will continue to live as long as those lessons he taught us as children are taught to our children and their children, and their children....
I hope that one day my grandchild will tell my great grandchild a story about his or her great grandmother being put back on a horse after being knocked off by a limb; if not, it's in my words on this page to forever immortalize at least one lesson Uncle Eddie taught me.