A couple of weeks ago, my son and I traveled to central Arkansas to attend my uncle's funeral.
My Uncle Sammie died on Feb. 6, five days after his 74th birthday. His health had been declining for several years and he had suffered a light stroke not long before his death.
Uncle Sammie was an older brother to my dad, who would have been 68 this year. Altogether, my grandparents had eight children -- five sons and three daughters. Uncle Sammie's death leaves four surviving siblings.
Uncle Sammie was a big man, and I never remember seeing him in a bad mood. He was always cheerful, always friendly, always quick with a joke or some light-hearted teasing. He was an outspoken Christian, and his faith was reflected in the way he lived. After he died, I visited my aunt and cousin, and my aunt told me that when Uncle Sammie came home under hospice care for what everyone knew were his final days, he could barely speak. But he asked my aunt if he could sing. She told him to sing as much as he wanted, and she said he spent hours singing "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!"
My youngest son accompanied me to visit my aunt about a week and a half after the funeral. I'm embarrassed to admit I hadn't been to her home in several years. But when I pulled into the driveway, I immediately recalled wonderful memories of my childhood.
"I spent many a day right here in this yard," I told my son.
I had a good visit with my aunt and my cousin. We talked about Uncle Sammie and laughed at some memories. My aunt told us how he had doted on his grandchildren.
"You remember how y'all weren't allowed to climb that tree?" she asked, pointing toward it. "He put that board up there (between two limbs) so the grandkids wouldn't fall out."
I regret that I didn't get to see my uncle more over the last several years. Between work, family and other responsibilities, it seems I only see my dad's family on holidays or on more somber occasions such as my uncle's funeral. As I left the funeral that day, another uncle shook my hand and said "I'll see you next time." I replied that I hoped "next time" would be Thanksgiving or Christmas.
My Uncle Sammie wasn't rich or famous. He didn't live in a fancy house or drive a fancy truck. But he raised three children and was married to my aunt for more than 50 years. He was a good man and he lived his life in a way that was true to his beliefs. The world needs more men like my Uncle Sammie.
At the end, he told my aunt that he was ready to go and be with Jesus.
Glory, glory, hallelujah.