The house was all dark wood. Basement and one level set back from the road. We’d park in the lot of the community pool that sat across the street, the one my uncle had managed for years. The smell was Thanksgiving, pure and simple. Turkey, filling, cold iced tea. A long table sat in the dining area.
I remember the conversations, the jokes and stories. My uncle’s voice was often the loudest and his laugh would get us all going.
In the beginning of November, he passed away.
He was a teacher, a football and wrestling coach for thirty years. As I look over social media I find his stories. A student mentioned their house burning down. My uncle had taken him in, without question, until the family was back on their feet. The stories from other students were numerous, the inspiration vast. Men and women recounting the interactions with their teacher and coach who had often made his way to friend and loved one by the time they’d grown into adulthood.
Val and I recently attended the first home wrestling match of the season for the district he’d led all those decades. The athletic director had given us shirts that the wrestling team would wear for the season in his memory. We’d worn them with pride. After a moment of silence, the team made their way to us and each wrestler shook our hands.
Mourning has a way of creating evaluation. Val and I sat and made a bucket list and a plan to check items off as we go. We’re looking to the future with hope after some positive changes this month.
I’ve learned a few things from my uncle that will stick with me.
-Serve without hesitation. It may not be as drastic as taking someone in but, if you see a need, fill it.
-Find a passion. In this day, “career” doesn’t have the best vibe to it. Still, it is a noble goal. Find something that drives you towards long-term commitment.
-Tough love. Some of the stories I’d read were about my uncle’s tough love for this players and students. He wouldn’t hesitate to correct if needed. As parents, this can be a challenge and this generation of kids is not one that takes kindly to correction. Tough love is an investment that often pays off years later.
-Toughness. My cousin, his daughter, was an only child. She’s a college lacrosse coach now and a member of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame. She’s a former Olympian and had found her way to the top of the sport. I’d always heard that my uncle had treated her like an athlete, no different from the kids on his wrestling or football team. Don’t doubt your kids and what they can handle. You’d be surprised.
Some of my best memories were spent on the porch of my grandparents’ house. After dinner the men would gather and have their iced tea or coffees. They’d tell their stories. Now, I see it as what it was, a chance to step in the past for a few sentences and remember how things were before life got complicated.
We like to think that a new year brings new hope. We make resolutions and try our best to change. The past two years have seen large shifts in our identities. Val and I have both had to look in the mirror and answer some tough questions. We’ve understood who we were and where we stand. We’ve faced loss and hardship, trials and struggle.
Our boys are bigger and getting older. We’ve learned the value of boundaries and how healthy ones look. We found some unity and come together as the four of us do this thing called life.
I believe, deep down, changes are coming. There’s an assurance that’s only found from looking into deeper shadows and depths. Tides shift. Change is possible.
No matter how deep set the patterns, change is possible. No matter how dark the storm or cynical the soul. Change is possible. There’s no timeline on story.
Just a start. Page one. In the beginning…