When I was young I thought my dad had an inexhaustible number of sibling brothers that would always be here. But to the folly of youth, life doesn’t work that way, as each passing year seems to serve as a painful reminder.
Ironton, OH – Post-football, I spent much of my Friday night driving from northwest Ohio to southeast Ohio to be in Ironton Saturday afternoon for the funeral of my uncle Leland, my dad’s third youngest brother.
Leland was actually one of nine brothers in Dad’s family, a man of character, opinionated, and as the pastor who performed his service shared…he could be a bit blunt at times. What he believed in HE REALLY believed in and never equivocated. He was one to stick by his principles.
I didn’t know him nearly as well as some of Dad’s other brothers, I think because they were all uniquely different, with different interests and personalities. And of course, you gravitate growing up, to the ones with which you find the most in common.
As a child I got to sample them all, as each summer the nine brothers and one sister (Aunt Norma) would all come home for the family reunion. There was Charlie, Norma, my dad (Glenn), Jeff, Dan, Claude, Ross, Leland, Joe, and Frank, and what a crew!
Uncle Charlie was an FBI agent in New York, and spent his autumns deer hunting in the woods of Maine. Of course, when he came home for the summer I was all eyes and ears to share in his adventures from the previous season.
And my Uncle Joe was actually a Baptist preacher, a very handsome guy and popular all over the county for his personality and charm. He also loved baseball, so of course, the two of us spent hour upon hour playing catch and listening to Sunday afternoon Reds games on his car radio.
Those were fun days, as the summer meant not only seeing the uncles, but all of their children, as well. I had so many first cousins I couldn’t name them all. They, too, were all different, and that made for some very interesting pecking orders around the family farm when we all got together.
I remember once telling my dad that there were so many uncles in the family that we would never run out. Dad, amused by my innocence, but adamant to point out life’s inevitable process, would always say, “Life doesn’t work that way. You’ll find out soon enough.”
As it turned out, it wasn’t long before I discovered the wisdom of his words.
Uncle Joe was the first to pass, from a farm accident. He was barely in his thirties.
Uncle Charlie was the next to go, several years later, and a blow to me for all the years of entertainment and stories of adventure he provided.
Then came Claude; and six years ago this past spring, my dad died in May. Suddenly, there were just five remaining; and when Norma passed this past spring the realization of Dad’s logic became very close.
Uncle Leland was the fifth of the nine brothers, leaving just Ross, Dan, Jeff and Frank, all in their seventies and eighties, and time has not slowed down on their behalf.
As I listened to the service Saturday it was hard to scan the room and witness the evolution of one generation being replaced by another. I really don’t know, still, a lot of the cousins, and children now of what once was the centerpiece of our family. Those nine Fulks boys were so well-known and respected it gave us all instant credibility in the community.
It was hard to think of my dad, and his warning that time is equally cruel in the respect that each of us, as he would tell me, is appointed once to die. I was so impressed at one time by them all…that I never, ever, thought it could happen. How could you run out of all those uncles?
There was a time when funerals were more ritualistic, a time to rejoice and celebrate the life of one that had gone on to their reward.
Now…not so much, and different, as the neck of the bottle begins to narrow; as the folly of my youth is replaced by the finality, as Dad said, of life’s process. Now I understand…that you really can run out of uncles, as I shared with with another family member Saturday. He smiled with moist eyes as if he, too, understood.
“We miss ’em, don’t we?” he said.
It is appointed once…for everyone!