Growing up I remember all my uncles always being present at family gatherings at the family farm land in King, NC, but I was much more focused on spending time exploring the pastures and fields with all my cousins. Matter of fact, I have so many cousins I'd totally fail the test to tell you how many, much less name them all!
As my cousins and I grew up, left home for college, married and began their own families, we didn't get together that often. We drifted apart and only saw each other at a few family reunions or chance meetings in unexpected places. I still chuckle about being assigned to present for a Christian Books store only to discover the bookstore contact was my cousin, Ed. And there's the time, I ran into another cousin at a civic function. When I recognized him, I gave him a big hug and his colleagues eyes bugged out of their heads until we told them we were cousins. There are so many cousins, I shouldn't have been surprised we'd eventually run into each other.
But my mothers' brothers remained a constant in my life; always warm, affectionate and interested in the lives of all the nieces and nephews. Of course, my uncles were frequent visitors at our home in Greensboro. They brought Papa to visit us, but after Papa died they continued to visit us frequently as well as be present for weddings and other family celebrations. I would never say I was close with any of them individually, but I loved each one of them. I was always comfortable in their presence and knew I was loved because of their gentle kindness.
Each was a well-respected southern gentleman in his own way. My uncle Joe, the bus driver, drove our youth choir all over the East Coast and my friends considered him an integral part of the choir. I remember staying at my uncle Ray's house for an overnight visit without my parents. I loved to visit my uncle Dean's grocery store and play in his barns behind his house. My uncle Dennis, a car mechanic, could troubleshoot a problem with a zen-like intuition and owned a busy gas station. My uncle Ralph taught me pigs didn't eat cucumbers and neither did he, which always cracked me up. I admired and looked up to my uncle Edgar, a power plant executive, almost as much as my mother did. My uncle Jimmy, my mother's kid brother, worked at my uncle Dean's store and lived in my grandparents' home with my Papa, so I saw him every time we visited King, NC.
Over the past few decades, my oldest uncles, one by one, died in their old age. Men of strong Christian faith, their funerals were testimonies of lives filled with service to their God and their community. After the recent deaths of my uncle Dean and Uncle Edgar, it dawned on me where once my mother's brothers were too many to count, only Uncle Dennis and Uncle Jimmy are still with us. Dealing with the sadness of that profound loss, one very special and touching memory of my uncles rushed back at me as if it were yesterday. As comforting and sweet as it is, it truly shows what loving humble men, my mother's brother are, and were.
The day of my sister Caryn's funeral, I was totally and profoundly lost. I don't remember much about that day, but I DO vividly remember my uncles; specifically Uncle Edgar, Uncle Dean and Uncle Dennis volunteering, nope… insisting they were going to babysit my two month old nursing son, Ian, while I attended my sister's funeral. Gently and confidently, they took him out of my arms and proceeded to coo and cuddle him as I was ushered out the front door. I remember how relaxed I felt handing over my infant and I was more than a little surprised by my feeling of total trust. Honestly surprised for I'd always seen my uncles as business men and this was the first time I recognizing them as fathers - not just providers, but nurturers.
After the funeral, I returned to find my uncles joyfully fussing over my boy sleeping peacefully in Uncle Edgar's arms. They teased they weren't going to give him back. It made me laugh for the first time on that horrible day; for all I could see in their faces was how much they loved me and my son.