Saturday night, after a long and tough battle with Alzheimer's Disease, my uncle, "Ol' Joe" passed away.
We were pretty tight, he and I. When I was a kid, and when my mother finally had enough of her then-husband (my Biological Sperm Donor), we moved from Chicago area to Northeast Indiana. Ol' Joe and his wife Carol lived there (Carol is mom's sister), and we moved in with them and their two kids, until mom could scrape up some spare coin for an apartment. Three adults, 4 kids, in a three bedroom house. Makes for some tight quarters and a larger food budget, but Joe wasn't going to have it any other way. Family needed help, and that was that. So he put in a few hours overtime at the factory, and we managed to get by.
Later, he taught me how to hitch a pony to a weight sled, so I could enter the horse pull contest at the county fair. I won a LOT of trophies, and it wasn't until years... decades... later that I learned I was the ONLY entry in a specific weight class. First out of a field of one. But I was a kid then, didn't know better, and the smiles I gave Joe when we won stretched ear to ear.
He taught me how to ride a three-wheeler. Before there were 4-wheeler ATVs, there were three wheeled ATCs. We'd run those things around the farm, or along the creek, or up and down the rural county roads, or in the old gravel pit. Again, a smile that was a country mile wide. He took the role of father that I never got from B.S.D.
Years passed, and he and Carol ended up in Brigham City, Utah, helping open a new plant for the company. I was 12 when mom put me on a plane and sent me there for a summer. I have never forgotten the majestic views of mountains. There, reaching to the sky, was a steep, varied, wonderful playground for me to explore. A path would switch back and forth up the side, scaling ever higher, until I could look down and see miles and miles. People were like specks of color, milling around, going about their daily lives, and I was way above them.
Joe asked "Pretty cool view, ain't it?"
"Yeah, it sure is," I replied.
And from that moment forward, I was in love with the mountains. Because Joe brought me up one, I'll ever be indebted to him.
In Indiana, Euchre is the card game that EVERYONE plays, and Joe and I would wipe the floor with opponents. Always playing into each other's hands, as if we had some silent telepathic communication that let us know what the other held. Which, of course, we did, because Joe taught me how to cheat at cards. If he held his cards a certain way, it means he's strong in Diamonds but doesn't have squat for Clubs. Held a different way and he's saying "You're on your own, kid, cause I am four suited with a Queen high."
As time, and the disease, progressed, I could see the emptiness in his eyes. A vacant stare, as if he sees your body, but knows not your name or how you're related, be it kith or kin. Most of the time, he'd just sit, stare at the floor, and seldom look at anyone. I'd like to think he knew and it was just his body that couldn't put into words what he was thinking. Maybe he was too proud to admit his weakness... strong, working men can be that way.
Last night, his body gave up the fight, and he went to spend time with his god. It's painful to say goodbye, but it was more painful watching him suffer. In a way, I'm thankful, because he no longer suffers. And that's as good as I could ask for the man that I called Ol' Joe.
Requiescat in Pace, Uncle Joe. You've earned it.