On Saturday my uncle passed away. Today would have been his 55th birthday.
This weekend reminded me of just how many great memories I have with him and his family. As tribute, here are a few:
At dinner Uncle Joe always made jokes (he made jokes all times of the day, but the ones I remember best were at the dinner table). Handing me the mustard, he’d ask he if I wanted “mouse turds” on my hot dog. Later he’d ask someone to “pass the Parkay.” While his kids heard his dad jokes every day, I giggled my way through dinners at their house.
While I was not the youngest cousin, I was usually the smallest and apparently ate less than the rest, too. Uncle Joe always said I ate “like a bird” in comparison.
And even though I was the smallest and usually everyone had to be at least a little careful not to totally squish me, life at their house helped teach me how to hold my own:
- Like during the winters when we would hook a sled up to the back of the 3-wheeler and we’d hold on for dear life while everyone else tried to push you off the sled.
- Or when we were ice fishing, whoever got to the tip up first got to reel in the fish – so you’d better run fast.
- Or the time when I accidently ran the 4-wheeler into the trailer.
But he always had your back. Because family comes first.
- Like the time he took me home in the middle of the night in the big green work truck (the one with the steel pipes as bumpers) because I got nervous at a sleepover.
- Or how even though I’m sure they probably didn’t have a lot back then, there was always enough food for one more person at their dinner table.
- Or the time I forgot my coat for ice fishing and wore Uncle Joe’s. And of course, there was candy in the pocket.
Uncle Joe was the first person I knew who raised animals for food. Because of those pigs I still think most store-bought bacon is weird. It was a great lesson about where food really comes from and that it’s totally ok to name your food 😉
He was also the first person I knew who shot fireworks off in his backyard. It made for some exciting summer nights.
Or how all winter long he’d have that old black cast iron wood stove filled to the brim – because he didn’t like it any less than 80 or so degrees in his living room. If you weren’t wearing shorts, it was probably too cold in his house for him.
Or at my wedding, when our officiant suggested we look out at all of our loved ones who came to support us so we could remember how much love we have backing us, Uncle Joe was in the back waving as I looked out. Of course I waved back. Everyone else just thought I was waving to be silly. It’s actually one of my most cherished memories from that day.
And now that I have a daughter of my own – who won’t be the youngest of the next generation, but as a preemie, may still be one of the smallest like I was – I hope I can instill in her the same rough and tough, hardworking, kind and caring, family-first VanNuck values that Uncle Joe helped instill in me.