"Do you want to get in there and have your picture taken with them?" I asked her.
"I guess," she said and took a few steps toward them. Then she stopped.
"No," she blinked away tears. "It's too sad without Dad."
We were at the dinner following her husband's funeral.
My Uncle Clarence died New Year's morning in his sleep. He hadn't been sick. His oldest son thinks he knew he was getting ready to go: "He always said he wanted to go on the back of a tractor and he ran that thing pretty hard the last forty-eight hours."
One of my other aunts asked Marie how old she was when they married 66 years before.
"I was one month shy of my 17th birthday," she said.
In Kentucky, where they lived, she had to be 17 or get her parents' permission to marry.
"My parents wouldn't sign," she said. "They liked Clarence just fine but thought I was too young to know what I was doing."
So her cousin forged the signature, and Clarence married Marie, and they were together for 66 years until Tuesday morning when she found him still in bed at 8 a.m. He had watched the celebration of the New Year before dying in his sleep.
During the funeral, I was sitting behind my Uncle Jim. Uncle Jim has one daughter and one granddaughter. So when the preacher read the list of survivors for Uncle Clarence -- four children, 16 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren -- Uncle Jim exclaimed, "Lawd Al-mighty!"
Uncle Clarence was in the Navy during World War II, so soldiers stood by the gravesite and gave a 21-gun salute. A sailor was there to play "Taps."
When I wrote my novel The Summer of France, I based one of the characters on my uncles' war stories. The character Uncle Martin was a Kentucky boy who jumped in to join the war effort. I even dedicated the book to my uncles.
|My Mother in the center. Uncle Albert is on the far right with Uncle Junior next to him.|
But I never gave Uncle Clarence a copy before he died. I took copies yesterday for Uncle Junior, 91, and Uncle Albert, 80, who are still healthy. I wanted to make sure they knew they had inspired me. And I gave a copy to one of Clarence's daughters. So many of us have older relatives that we take for granted. Don't wait until it's too late to gather their stories.
You never know when you may need a story to draw on, and all of that wisdom is just waiting to be shared.