Unc Unc

It’s a fact that we all wrestle with, in varying degrees of unrest and resolution. We are all going to die, someday. But sometimes someday is way too soon and a person’s departure leaves a void that is unimaginable.
Unc Unc, Holly & Dad
At Uncle Harry & Aunt Jane's Wedding, 1977

My Uncle Harry, my Dad’s only sibling, passed away suddenly last month at the age of 61. 

He was known to us as Unc Unc. The name suited him perfectly. He was a man of many sound effects and a laugh that kept us swimming in a sea of silly.

But what I remember most is how he made me feel. Special. How he looked at me. With admiration. And how it was to be with him. Fun. 

Growing up, when something of note would happen, I’d think, “I can’t wait to tell Uncle Harry.” It may have been months before I saw him next, but when I did, it always felt like he was anticipating, looking forward to my ramblings. He’d listen and listen, interject a bit and then listen some more. 

He was a universal, unconditional listener. That was obvious at his funeral as a line of people wrapped around the church several times, just waiting to get in. 

The day felt more like a reunion than a funeral. As family and friends struggled in shock and sadness, there were endless stories. Of Harry’s kindness, sense of humor, wit, athletic prowess and loving presence. He was simply an amazing friend, son, brother, husband, father and grandfather. And Uncle.

A couple days after the service, my sister had a dream that she saw Uncle Harry and told him how many people were there to honor his memory, his life. In her dream he said, “Well what else do people have to do on a Thursday morning?”

We laughed. Because that is something he would have said. Never once acknowledging that those people would have waited in a snowstorm, because he would have done the same for them.

On this day of remembering, we remember Unc Unc. You are here in our hearts, never to be forgotten.


I read a lot of parenting paraphernalia when John was little. Most of it I don’t recall, but there was one piece of advice that stuck: 

“Whenever you look into your child’s eyes: smile.” 

I remember thinking the message was profound. A simple way of letting my budding little life know he was loved, appreciated. And, who doesn’t like a smile thrown their way? I was also fairly confident it was something I could pull off while wandering around in my then sleepless stupor.

And so after naps, during diaper changes, feeding time, car seat transitions, I’d try to remember to: smile. Not a big toothy “yippee” smile but an “I’m so glad you’re mine” smile. 

Two things immediately happened. 

John started to smile back. And, I realized the smile regimen was as good for me as it was for him. 

Smiles are catchy.

Ten years later, I no longer consciously think to smile when my boys walk in the room (I hope by now it’s a habit). And let’s face it when cooing babies turn into tantrumy toddlers and precocious pre-teens, all that smiling can be a little more...um, challenging.

Last weekend John performed in his first musical theatrical production. For regular readers of this blog, this was the performance that I kinda sorta had him audition for without him knowing. He is after all, my reluctant joiner, who prefers school and home to “out there” endeavors. 

John loved his time at the Children’s Theatre. Every Saturday he happily attended rehearsals, without ever once saying, “Do I have to go?” And he was excited to share his production with the steady stream of family and friends who attended.

Knowing how happy he’d been rehearsing and how excited he was to be part of the production, I was a little surprised to see how timid he was as we watched the first production. It was clear he was having a good time but he wasn’t his usual self.

I approached the subject delicately on the way home in the car.

“How did it feel to be up there?” I asked.

“Great!” he said, then after a long pause. “Mom can you sit somewhere different for the next show?”

“Sure, why?” I asked.

“The people in front of me weren’t smiling and it made me wonder if I was doing a good job.”

“Some people are smile-challenged John,” I responded.

“Smile what?” he asked.

“Smiling isn’t their thing,” I said. 

The next afternoon I arrived an hour early with John. Before he left to join his cast mates, John directed me to the area where he wanted me to sit. Second row, stage right. 

Forty minutes later a familiar face walked through the door. It was Mrs. Bankers, from John’s school. Seeing her always-present smile, made me smile, for so many reasons.

Mrs. Bankers routinely lights up the Buttonball Lane Elementary School office. She is the kind of person that notices, everything. She’s never too busy to say hello or offer comfort. She senses when a child (or a parent) is lost or not feeling quite right. Her joy is contagious. 
“Thanks for saving me a seat,” she said with her trademark smile.

Thanks for bringing your smile, I thought.

As the lights dimmed and the music began, I could see John’s big blue eyes poke out from the back of the curtain. As soon as he saw us in our strategically appointed seats, I could see him smile. 

Over the next hour and a half we sat in the little theatre watching children ranging from seven to seventeen sing, dance and act their hearts out while we laughed, clapped and shed a tear or two.

I could see John’s confidence grow with each passing song. With each passing smile.

I know I won’t always be able to be John’s surrogate smiler, willing him through every nerve wracking endeavor. But I hope he’ll always remember: Smiles are catchy. And like good advice, they never grow old.