My Uncle Gerald finished his race in the wee hours of yesterday morning. And he ran well. He ran very well.
It was unexpected. A complete shock. He and his wife Bev of 20 months had just completed a vacation in the Texas Hill Country on Friday. I had told him about the bed and breakfast built into the old train cars on Inks Lake and reminded him about the coconut cream pie at the Bluebonnet Cafe in Marble Falls. He attended a reunion at Dallas Christian on Saturday. He stayed home from church on Sunday because of some chest pains, got checked out by paramedics, and took it easy the rest of the day. He went to sleep Sunday night in his recliner and that’s where Bev found him yesterday morning. I’m still trying to wrap my brain and my soul around the news that my Uncle Gerald is no longer among the living on earth. I keep thinking I’m going to show up at the funeral this weekend and we’re going to laugh together about how weird it was when we all got those phone calls telling us he had died.
It’s hard to think of Uncle Gerald as dead because Uncle Gerald so ferociously represents life in its fullest form. He commands every room he enters with his warmth and his joy. He genuinely loves all people. He goes out of his way to pay careful attention to folks in their 90s and to play with and be silly with little kids and babies. He encourages the awkward teenagers. He brings an inexhaustible joy to every occasion. He accepts everybody. He engages everybody. He connects everything to a song and is not bashful about singing it. He loves to joke and laugh. He has a memory like a steel trap, so he has all the stories, all the history. He is the keeper of the family traditions and the 1930 Model A pickup. He is deeply sentimental about people and things. He remembers all the birthdays. He makes up games to play and goes at it with wild abandon. All sock monkeys are named “Whooping Cough” because of Uncle Gerald.
Some of my most vivid memories of Uncle Gerald are as a kid with the whole family at Bo-Bo’s house and, of course, at their place on Foxwood. But some of my favorites are as an adult, more recently, over the past twenty years, as our relationship changed into more of a friendship. I cherish the couple of times I spent several hours with Uncle Gerald in his office at Kilgore College, listening to his stories, sharing his love for our hometown of Dallas, reminiscing about all the siblings and cousins and our shared history. Walking with him around the downtown Kilgore square, eating lunch together at that sandwich place, being introduced to his friends and co-workers with such love and pride. The phone conversations about ecumenical worship and service to others between churches, the strange relationship between church elders and preachers, and the beauty of our God’s matchless grace.
Uncle Gerald has always been my favorite uncle. Hands down. Not even close. His geographic and social proximity to us is a big part of that – we all lived in the Pleasant Grove neighborhood of southeast Dallas, we all went to the same church, we all went to Dallas Christian School, we were with Uncle Gerald and Aunt Alice all the time. But, much more than that, Uncle Gerald always knows exactly how to make you feel like you are special, that you are important, that he really loves you, and loves being with you. He demonstrates an effortless love and a relaxed grace that isn’t so easily expressed in my clan. He really stands out that way. Every single trip to East Texas to see my parents is dominated by the question: Are we going to see Uncle Gerald? When is Uncle Gerald coming over? Are we going to Uncle Gerald’s house?
You want to be in the same room with Uncle Gerald because of his love and grace. He is very much like our Lord that way.
May all of us who know Uncle Gerald remember that his love and grace and joy come from our God and reflect his eternal glory. May the Lord bless Suzanne, Jeff, Chris, Bev, my dad and mom, and our whole family with his divine comfort and peace. And may God receive his faithful servant Gerald into his loving arms.