This has been a sad week for me. Sunday was Father’s Day, which is always a difficult day for me. Neither my legal father nor my biological father was very fatherly. Since they are both deceased, there is no possibility of those relationships improving. I am glad that there are many of you who were able to celebrate Father’s Day with a loving father.
The other reason for my sadness this week is because today is the one-year anniversary of my dear Uncle Barry’s death. Uncle Barry was my most consistent father figure. He was my uncle by marriage to my mother’s sister, Evelyn. Aunt Evelyn passed away in 2003. Uncle Barry passed away one year ago today, June 23, 2021, at the age of 90. For the last ten years of his life, our family had the privilege of having Uncle Barry with us for most holidays, vacations, and many other times. He was an important part of most of our gatherings. Uncle Barry’s absence is felt in a profound way. As I reflect on Uncle Barry, I recall his life more than his death.
Lest you think Uncle Barry was a saint, let me dispel that. (None of us are, are we?) Uncle Barry was what many would call a “character.” He was irreverent many times, and his language was not always appropriate. Many times, I reminded him that the children could hear him, and to “watch it!” He was very particular about how and when he wanted things done, including weighing crab cakes so they were all the exact same size, and would cook the same. When he was cooking something for our large gatherings at Thanksgiving, he wanted to start long before necessary, and right in the middle of me preparing for another meal. He wanted what I cooked for him to be done a certain way, regardless of what else was going on. He was not demanding, just particular.
Soon-to-be ten-year-old granddaughter Virginia still talks about Uncle Barry’s “holy shirt,” the t-shirts he wore that had holes in them. He would even wear those in public if I did not insist on him being dressed more appropriately. I only remember him wearing shorts most of the time, regardless of the outside temperature. But he could “dress up” when necessary. I remember then six-year-old granddaughter Elsie’s comment when she saw Uncle Barry dressed for the formal ceremony honoring Mike as North Carolina State University’s 2012 College of Textiles Distinguished Award Recipient, when she said, “Uncle Barry, you look so NICE!”
There is so much more that I could tell you about Uncle Barry. I have so many memories. Some memories will stay with me forever.
I remember living with Uncle Barry and Aunt Evelyn when I was a teenager, and how he bought me a new outfit when I was in the 8th grade homecoming parade, although he could not really afford to. I remember having him walk me down the aisle for my first wedding, although I had a legal father who could have done so. Uncle Barry had been my father more than any other male, and I thought he deserved that honor. I remember the hours he spent looking for just the right presents for the grandchildren for Christmas, and how he and we evolved to having him with us for holidays. I remember him smoking a turkey for Thanksgiving. I remember him picking and cleaning crabs and making crab cakes. I remember him having his neighbor and friend Cecil make lots of barbecue for Mike, the best barbecue Mike said he had ever had.
I remember my last outing with Uncle Barry. He wanted a hot dog from his favorite place in Virginia Beach. About a month before he died, Uncle Barry and I made the forty-five-minute drive there, and after our meal, we rode around and (although I did not know it was what we were doing at the time) said goodbye to his old home place, places I had lived, and the beach. I am so glad that we made that trip.
My lasting memory of Uncle Barry is that he loved me unconditionally. While it was hard for him to say, “I love you,” he did say it. It was never hard for him to show his love. He showed it in his time spent with us. He showed it in embracing our extended family as his. He showed it in so many ways. And as we know, actions speak louder than words.
Rest in peace, dear Uncle Barry. While your passing left a big void, your life with us gave us so much to cherish.