Everyone remembers my Uncle Ted. Receptionists, baristas, neighbors, dining hall servers—they all know him, and comment on his walking cane, crafted by his own hands. In the garden or down the hall, if they don’t recognize the jangle of the dog collar first, they would quickly recognize him by his hat—a black bowler in recent years, before that an Indiana Jones style fedora. Nurses who came by exhaled a long ‘Oh’ when they saw him lying in the bed with nothing but an oxygen tube as his body quietly shut down. Until the very end, his heart beat fiercely. No surprise, as his pastor said, “He’s all heart.”
My Uncle Ted has a soul that is always searching, always learning. I say ‘has’ and ‘is’ because I believe that even now he is searching out old friends, meeting long lost relatives, encountering neighbors from the small Montana towns where he and my father grew up. I believe that in the Kingdom of God, my Uncle Ted has more wood carving to learn, more beautiful things to craft, even still. His tools are here, along with the remaining diamond willow branches, and we grieve to see that they will never again feel the touch of his careful hands. Hands that healed patients’ feet. Hands that stiffened at the jerk of a trout. Hands that waved to everyone, accompanied by a smile. He was quick to stop and meet a new neighbor, or ask if he could help a stranger.
Some days I wish I could recall childhood memories in sharper focus, remember words that were said, or conversations we had. Instead, I simply remember the pleasure of holidays at a beachfront home as Aunt Mary and Uncle Ted spread delicious meals. Perhaps there were sports on the old television, perhaps just the radio. It was simply comforting to be there. During the summers, we would overturn rocks at low tide to expose strange creatures to our studious gaze. There was always a dog that needed to be walked. Sunsets and thunderstorms were especially spectacular. Nature was as much inside as it was outside. Collections of plants, rocks and driftwood sat adjacent to finely worked carvings, statuettes, and the Hummel case.
Uncle Ted did not having a booming voice, but it was always a joy to hear his stories of Boy Scout adventures in the wild bush of mid-century Montana. His low chuckle at the end of a tale just hinted at a more mischievous time—not that he would have ever been the instigator. Have you heard the story about his experience at the National Jamboree of 1950,* in Valley Forge, PA? As he grew older, more stories emerged (as they are wont to do), and he filled in some of the gaps from my father’s memories. It is hard work to carry all those memories.
I believe that we have not heard the last of his stories, nor his chuckle, but for now they have been silenced. Now our work of grieving has begun. Yet grief is most fully expressed in the joy of a life lived well. Uncle Ted sought the good in everyone and everything, and taught me how to hold on to the good and the beautiful to the very end.
*Quick simple math correction; Ted went to the 1950 Jamboree as a Scout leader, not the first event in 1937 (he would have been only 5).