As a boy, I used to marvel at the humorous stories told to me by uncle Earl: like the time the local volunteer fire department headed out to put out a barn fire. This didn’t seem unusual due to the storm and the lightning strikes that night. But the lads got lucky and were able to knock the fire out quickly because the wind had died down – resulting in minimal damage to the old structure. Not only that, but the farmer had previously cleared the animals out and none were lost.
However, the fire crew didn’t have much time to rest as they were soon called out to the same property. Seems somehow the fire had re-ignited… apparently some remaining hot spots were the cause. This time they made sure that everything was thoroughly soused down.
But, much to everyone’s surprise, two hours later, the call came in again – same barn, same fire!
And, to hear Uncle Earl tell it, the fire chief – after surveying the scene of the blaze for the third time – announce to his crew (to no one’s surprise), “Well, if he wants his barn to burn that badly … best just let it go.”
Another time, I remember how sad it was at his wife’s passing. Aunt Irene had attended the local missionary church regularly and had tried, and failed, to get Earl inside the church. Yet, now – for Irene’s sake – he made an exception and attended her funeral services presided over by Pastor Bob.
And again, despite somber circumstances, uncle Earl was able to the see the lighter side of things – and thereby relieving the tension. When Pastor Bob commented during his eulogy that Irene was in a better place … “where the streets are paved with gold”, Earl was heard to say, “That’s right … all that gold and nowhere to spend it!”
Yet, despite Earl’s classic witticism, when he passed away – just one week after his wife’s funeral – we realized that his faith, and love for her, ran deeper than he let on.
I guess I’ll always be amazed how visiting Uncle Earl made you feel happier for having visited him – despite his pain from crippling multiple sclerosis which he suffered from for most of his adult life. And, it couldn’t have been easy for him; as he frankly admitted to a news reporter writing a story on the disease, “It’s no fun … I wouldn’t want to wish it on anyone.”
But he wouldn’t have wanted being remembered as a man defined only by a home hospital bed or wheel chair. Whether in my childhood or adult memories, uncle Earl’s as vibrant, now, as he ever was in life. I won’t forget. So, cheers, Earl!
“And you can tell everybody this is your song/
It may be quite simple but now that it’s done…
I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words/
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world” – Your Song by Sir Elton John
www.fredparry.ca May 2014