Yesterday morning I attended the funeral for my uncle who passed away last week. The morning started out dreary and gloomy, and the drive to the church was solemn as the rain pelted the windshield of my car. It was a miserable day for a funeral, but then is any day good for a funeral?
It had been a while since I had seen my uncle, but seeing him peacefully laying in the casket brought back a rush of memories and stories. One, in particular, rose from my memory like a phoenix rises from the flames.
My Uncle Jay was a veteran, spending his military days in the United States Army during the Vietnam War. I have a vague memory of being eleven or twelve years old sitting in a barbershop in Paulsboro, New Jersey. I was getting my hair cut (what else do you do in a barbershop when you're eleven or twelve). I remember the old men in the shop, their balding heads rimmed with white hair around the edges, discussing their time in the military. Most of them had seen action in the Korean War, and a couple even in World War II. Me, not wanting to be left out in the conversation, piped up that my Uncle Jay had fought in World War II. Let's face it, I was eleven or twelve, with no concept of historical events, or when they occurred. My Uncle Jay was in a war, and that made him a war hero to me. I touted him up as if he were Captain America himself. I have no idea if the old men believed me or not. I guess I should consider myself lucky that they weren't talking about the American Civil War, my Uncle might have fought in that too.
I've never told anyone this story, particularly my uncle. I'm not sure if he would have been happy to know how old I thought he was. But, I found it interesting how little pieces of the past can find their way to the forefront of one's mind when facing the death of a loved one. Such an insignificant moment in my life from more years ago than I wish to admit surfaces out of the darkness of a memory that can barely remember what I had for lunch yesterday. Death seems to be the great stimulus that can pierce even the furthest reaches of the mind, bringing forth a treasure trove of rich memories that can be worth more than gold.
My uncle always downplayed his time in the military, but in the mind of an eleven or twelve year old kid, he was Sergeant Fury and G.I. Joe all wrapped up in one. But, he was far more than just a military man. He was a father, husband, grandfather, prankster (a serious prankster), and many other things. His short military stint was only the tip of the iceberg of who he was. He was so much more. And, the memories are far too great to record in a few words. Uncle Jay was a fun-loving, good-hearted man, who will be fondly missed by that young boy.
Rest in Peace, Uncle Jay.