Saturday, July 28, 2007


My uncle died yesterday. My mother's only brother, 2 years her junior. He was the one who rode me around on the tractor when I was a toddler. He blew up a big yellow balloon and gave it to me when I cried for the moon. He was our favorite babysitter. He was a sailor, very handsome in his Navy uniform. He traveled to lots of places and always brought us wonderful surprises from all of them. He served in Viet Nam. He taught me to sing "Do, Lord." At that time, he was bigger than life, a hero in my young eyes. I could never understand why Daddy never liked him. Daddy always thought he was mean and more than a little "off." Even before the Navy and Viet Nam.

As we all grew older and he married and became the father of four children himself, I began to see what Daddy had seen all along. He was a mean man. A bully. So full of self-righteousness that he would tolerate no way but his and he meant, by God, to have that way by whatever means he deemed necessary. He beat his wife and children. He beat his wife in front of his children. Often. He controlled their every action. Everything they did was out of fear of how he would react to it. They wouldn't even eat the last of anything in their pantry for fear he would come in and want it. Fear that he would want it. They didn't save it as loving children would save something for their loving father.

In spite of being offered safe haven at my parents house over and over again, my aunt stayed with him. Far longer than I would have. But eventually, she had had enough. When her youngest child graduated from high school, she left him. Her children gathered around her and helped her make a good life for herself. And, they managed to grow into productive, wonderful people. People who still believe in good and doing the right thing. In spite of all he had put them through when they were young, they wanted to try as adults to have some kind of relationship with him. But each attempt was disastrous. He blamed them all for the trouble he had in his life and for not coercing my aunt into coming back to him. He continued to feel justified in all that he had done to them. Somewhere in his sick mind, he thought he had been the kind of husband and father that God wanted him to be.

His abusive behavior wasn't limited to his wife and children. For years, after Daddy died and Mama remarried, he bullied her about the way she took care of Grandmama and Granddaddy. (She did an excellent job and he had no reason to complain.) He physically threatened my step-father on several occasions. After Grandmama and Granddaddy died, Mama didn't have to put up with it anymore for their sakes, so she didn't. She also severed ties with him. It's been three years since she last spoke to him.

And so, he died alone in his bed. The cleaning lady found his body yesterday morning when she came for work . He had charted the course of his life and it had ended just the way we all thought it would. I remember being very angry with him once when, as a teenager, I listened to him berate his 9 year-old son for losing a football game, promising him a beating when he got home. I was so mad I could barely breathe but before I bolted out of his car, I managed to choke out, "You know, they're going to hate you one day and you are going to deserve it." I don't know if they actually hated him or not, but of the 4 children and 7 grandchildren he had, not one of them had any kind of relationship with him. He had 3 grandchildren that he had never seen.

I find myself now wondering how I can feel no grief at all. No sorrow whatsoever that he isn't in the world anymore. No sadness for the passing of my childhood hero. I feel lots of anger toward him for the way he treated my mother and the hell he put his wife and children through. And I am still outraged at the lies he told more distant family members about my aunt and my mother. I feel like he died just like he should have - all alone. But I feel no sadness at all.

Does this make me a bad person? One with a hard heart? I know Jesus commanded us to "love one another." On occasion, I did feel pity for him and sorry that he had made his life what it was. And I never wished him harm. I hope that means that, on some level, I was able to love him.


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