Uncle John's Hands
They clutched the edges of that cardboard, reversible “Syr/Roch” sign that he carried to hitchhike to Rochester during his ‘sideburns’ phase. He did this often after my dad died in 1977 – to help my mom, to father us, even when he had so little time of his own working on his PhD at Syracuse University. And he wrapped them around mine when we sat on the brown and gold plaid couch in my mother’s family room watching Bad B movies together. Even Godzilla scared me then. He knew this and pretended to be scared, too. They held the back of my banana seat when I learned to ride my bike. They gripped the steering wheel on that one occasion when my 16-year-old sister failed to slow down through the construction zone on the NY State Thruway in our Chrysler Town and Country Station Wagon. This may have been the only time I ever heard him raise his voice. Not in an “I’m angry” sort of way; but in a 3 octaves higher “it’s-possible-we’re-all-going-to-die” sort of way. Every Thanksgiving he rested them gently on the dining room table at Uncle David and Aunt Jeanne’s house while we talked about school, travel, boys, sports, work, love, life or loss - depending upon the chapter. And, no matter the chapter, he always made the time. They held the remote control for the Cowboys game. And the clicker when the family played Jeopardy. And while I never played with him, I understand they found a home wrapped around a golf club or two in a city or two across a lifetime with the best of friends. They signed each card with care – those birthday cards that were never late for each one of us. And they eventually put a ring on Deborah’s finger - his life partner; his best friend; and his wife. His hands were wise and gentle in equal measure; two things that embodied him and which I have tried to emulate my whole life.
He had his hands in everything – Philosophy & Religion, Human Resources and Humankind. And he helped me in quiet ways through my lifetime. He paid for a typing tutor for me so that I could get my first “real” job as an administrative assistant for a software company in 1990. And two short months ago he counseled me quietly while I sat in the Kansas City Airport about an offer now to be the Vice President of another. I took the job. And, the truth is, he is still the Executor of my Will - because he is the only person I trust that much. This one I will have to figure out without our usual conversation.
That is just a small part of my list. But I have no illusion that I was the only one.
The weekend that Uncle John left us, Tom and I intended to make an impromptu visit. I had been planning it since I saw him in January and my offer would have been simple. I wanted to be his hands on a keyboard since his ALS made it impossible to write or type so that I could capture in letters whatever he wanted to say to those most dear to him and deliver those letters later. But, on that Friday, Mom called to tell me he was having a hard time. I thought in that moment that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to be his hands after all.
But, I was wrong.
I can make a choice every day to be Uncle John’s hands.
I imagine certain members of our family are on the other side preparing for the next July 4th Picnic. Granny is ironing the tablecloths with her hands. Grandpa is carrying the Carvel box filled with lollapaloozas with his; all the while singing “T-B-Y-A-H” - loudly. Uncle Doug? Well, his are rough and sturdy and busily stocking the cooler with Bud. I mean, look around, can you blame him? And Uncle John is now using his to gently hammer in the horseshoe stakes in the shade by the breezeway for another lazy round because he knew in this short life that the most important thing is time is with family and friends.
So, until we can all toss those horseshoes – red and blue – again.
I will put others first.
I will listen.
I will be kind.
I will ponder “if a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”
I will watch The Twilight Zone.
I may try golf again. This one I’m on the fence about. After all, nobody could possibly have his patience.
But I will live…fully.
And I will love…completely.
Simply put - I will be Uncle John’s hands.
And I hope that you will join me.