Vail Daily columnist Linda Stamper Boyne: What would Uncle Don do?
Vail, CO, Colorado
Every now and then, events happen that help us remember the kind of people we want to be. Last week, I flew to Oregon to attend my uncle’s memorial service and to be with my mom’s family.
Uncle Don was the only uncle I have ever known. My dad’s brother was killed in a plane crash before I was even born, so Aunt Pat and Uncle Don were all I had.
My family is not large. I have two sons, one sister, one brother in-law, two nieces and two parents. My twin cousins each have girls, two for one, three for the other. Add their wives and we’re just 18. We can feasibly still fit at one gigantic table in a restaurant, which is what we did Friday night.
The last time we were all together was five years ago for Aunt Pat’s memorial service. I am fortunate that I actually like my relatives. They are kind, fun-loving, caring people. There’s no drama or long-held resentments or discord. We just enjoy being together. There was a lot of laughter around that very loud table, despite the reason for us gathering together.
It sounds so cliched, but Uncle Don was a good man. Truly. I had my own impressions of him, but I began seeing him more clearly through the eyes of my cousins and my mom as we talked about him over dinner. After hearing them tell stories, recollect different things, piece together what they wanted to say at the memorial service, I had a more complete picture of the man who was my uncle.
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Mourning a loved one and facing mortality tends to give rise to self-reflection. In honoring his memory, I find there are many qualities he possessed that I want to reflect in my own life.
Uncle Don was the guy who could strike up a conversation with anyone. He made friends easily. He always had something to add to a conversation that he had read or a story to tell that someone else had shared with him. Come to find out, he kept notes on people he talked with so when he saw them again, he could reference what they had last spoken about, making others feel remembered and important, creating connections.
My take away: Be kind to people, take time have a conversation and make an effort to remember what is important to others.
Uncle Don was up for anything. He said yes easily, whether it was going out to a show with my parents in Palm Springs or on a trip to Ireland and Spain with his son. And he got more out of life by having all those experiences.
My lesson: Say yes to opportunities, for you never know where they’re going to lead.
Uncle Don was a pharmacist who owned his own store. I remember seeing him behind the counter in his white coat, he and the store meticulously organized. He worked six days a week and went to great lengths to take care of his customers. He believed hard work was its own reward, that setting goals and achieving them leads to the greatest satisfaction and the happiest life.
Honesty was paramount to Uncle Don. It was his guiding principle. He told his sons that if you were honest, you would always do the right thing. Moving forward, when faced with a dilemma, we will just ask ourselves, “What would Don do?”
My mom, pleasant and chatty by nature, announced Sunday that she felt perhaps she was channeling Don’s spirit as she seemed to be initiating more conversations with strangers than usual. While we were waiting for a cross light to change in downtown Eugene, a man came up beside us on a bike. My mom glanced at his elbow where there was a spider web encompassing the joint.
“I like your tattoo,” she said. “The spider web changes size as you move.”
“Thanks,” he said, slightly taken aback by Mom’s compliment. “It’s a prison gang tattoo,” he added as he rode away.
And even as we laughed at the fact that she had taken to chatting up ex-con gang members, we all recognized that the spirit of Uncle Don was definitely living on.
Linda Stamper Boyne of Edwards can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org