His name was Uncle Red

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It was only after his death the family learned that Uncle Red had been awarded two Bronze Stars for heroic achievement during World War 11.

It was a period of his life he didn't talk about. We do know that when he entered the war, his hair was red and bushy, but when he returned home four years later, it was thin and prematurely gray.

When he died from a heart attack, he was claimed not only by his immediate family, but by two other unrelated families who considered him one of their own.

That's how well-liked he was. The funeral director wasn't sure which family should receive the American flag during presentation services at the gravesite.

Materially, Uncle Red had little but he was rich in ways that counted.

To children he was the pied piper who treated them with respect and affection.

When I was a little girl, I loved to see my Uncle Red walking up the sidewalk to my house. He was always glad to see me and my brother and sister. I could count on him to slip a quarter in my hand or into my dress pocket.

Over the years he gave away dozens of toy watches to neighborhood children and to my big brother too.

If there was one thing he was, he was a people lover.

It was his sense of humor that set him apart. In gatherings, he became the center of attention. He was a teaser with a million jokes and stories to tell. He kept everyone laughing at his quick wit. And his friendly insults were considered compliments.

At Christmastime he liked to tell how he was born in a manger on Christmas Day. Actually, it was the truth, but some audiences thought it was one of Uncle Red's famous tales.

It's difficult to describe my Uncle Red. He was a Popeye the sailor man look-a-like, but instead of a sailor's cap, he always wore a beret.

One Christmas, Santa Claus, dressed in his red suit, visited Uncle Red in his humble abode. Santa presented him with a new beret from employees of the local bank. After Uncle Red's death, the local editor wrote an eloquent editorial about Uncle Red. The publisher also served as one of the pallbearers.

I guess everyone in his hometown knew him or had heard of him. He was a self-appointed town historian who had a clear memory for dates and facts. It's said that state politicians running for office would solicit Uncle Red to campaign for them because they knew he was acquainted with so many townspeople and could influence their vote.

He made his daily rounds even after he became seriously ill and was dependent upon his oxygen tank to keep him breathing. He never let a little thing like an oxygen tank keep him from family reunions either. He never missed a one.

When he wanted to go somewhere he'd grab his portable tank and take off. On the day he died, he had made his morning rounds and visited with downtown merchants.

He was a one-of-a-kind relative.

But there's one more thing..

He was the best wallpaper hanger in town.