My favourite uncle passed away last week. He was only 63. Although he suffered a massive stroke a few months ago, he was improving so much and we were all hopeful that he would recover. Not to be. I suppose we could drive ourselves nuts with the “why” of it all, but we choose not to go there. We’ll savour the good memories instead.
Neil was more like a brother to me than an uncle. We were only seven years apart in age and did a lot of growing up together. But there came a point where Neil didn’t appreciate having his little niece tagging along after him, especially on Saturday nights. He’d spend hours sprucing up and when I asked him why, he’d always say, “I’m going to town to smoke my pipe.” I had no idea what that meant, but I wanted to go to town to smoke my pipe too. Finally, to get me to quit bugging him, he promised to take me on a date when I turned 13. “Then you’ll be a teenager in love,” he said, “and you’ll be old enough to come along.” I had no intention of being a teenager in love, and Neil had no itention of taking me on a date because he never thought I’d turn 13. Well, I did. And I didn’t let him forget his promise. He took me to a drive-in movie where we saw “Paint Your Wagon” with Lee Marvin (stupid movie) and then to A&W after for Teen Burgers. I had such a good time! Poor Neil. I never realized until years later how embarrassing it must have been for him to take a kid like me on a date.
Then there was the time Neil gave me a pretty little ring. I was so excited because I loved jewellery of any kind, and coming from Neil made it even more special. Oh, but there was quite an uproar when I wanted to wear my new ring to church the next day. Neil absolutely would NOT let that happen and even threatened to take it back. I cried and fought and kicked and yelled, but finally had to give in. I found out later than Neil had given that ring to a girl he had been dating – a girl who went to the same church – and when they broke up, she gave the ring back. Neil was terrified that she might see ME wearing the ring. Ha!
Okay, here’s a story I’ve told countless times. I was probably 7 or 8 years old and we were spending the weekend at my grandparents’ farm, as we usually did. I was following Neil as he did his chores, as I usually did. As he fed the pigs, he explained to me that they were enclosed in an electric fence to keep them from escaping all the time. Then he dared me to touch the fence. Not knowing about these things, and never being one to shy away from a dare, I went ahead and touched the fence. As you can imagine, I got a shock all right, but I was wearing rubber-soled sneakers and it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Neil thought it was hilarious, so he dared me to take off my shoes and touch the fence again. I wouldn’t do it. He upped the ante and offered me two bits (I had no idea how much money that was but it sounded like a lot). I was skeptical, but decided to give it a go. I took my shoes off, touched the fence, and got a jolt of electricity that threw me back a foot or two. I screamed bloody murder and that got everyone out of the house and running to the pigpen in a big hurry. Neil actually had the decency to look contrite, and even said he was sorry. Well, I knew I had the upper hand here, so I kept on with the tears and sobbing as I demanded payment for nearly losing my life. My mom and grandmother both looked at Neil expectantly. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a quarter and tossed it at me. I screamed again. “You said two bits! And this is only one!” Neil tried to explain that two bits was the same as one quarter, but I was hearing none of it. Finally, he slapped another quarter into my hand and stomped off to finish his chores. I don’t think he spoke to me for weeks after that.
Neil became more tolerant of my company as I grew older, particularly when I was in my late teens. This was because I’d usually bring a friend or two with me when I came to visit and Neil, still single, was on the prowl for female companionship. And I certainly didn’t mind the attention I got from his friends. So it was that I finally got to go with Neil when he went to town to smoke his pipe! We went to a lot of parties and met up with a lot of people and I was sworn to secrecy. He knew that if my mother ever found out about the places he was taking me, he would be in big trouble and so would I.
I got married, Wayne and I had our first baby, and Neil was still unattached. Then, through our church, I met another young woman who became a great friend. One night, as she and I were having coffee together, it occurred to me that Dianne should meet Neil. She was agreeable, so Wayne and I arranged a blind date – dinner at our house. They came, they met, they left. Neil asked me for Dianne’s phone number, but we never heard another word about it. Until several months later when they showed up at our house together! They were married not long after. That was 30 years ago.
Neil and Dianne lived happily ever after on their farm in Saskatchewan. They raised three beautiful daughters there. But Neil was too young to go on his final journey, home to heaven. There was so much he wanted to do. All I can say is how thankful I am that Neil knew Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour, that he knew absolutely where he would spend eternity. And I am thankful that this goodbye is only temporary.
Bye for now, Neil!