Remembering Uncle Al, the Grateful Kiddies' Pal
There are numerous benefits to the work I do. I help people connect with their families and themselves. I see my Storytellers grow. I get to hear amazing stories that light up their faces and their spirits. Working with my clients is an honor and a privilege to me. I don't take our time together lightly or for granted.
But most people cannot comprehend the depth of friendship that evolves as my clients and I work together. By the time we are finished with one-on-one work, I know my Storytellers almost as well as they know themselves. It's sort of a memoir kinship. So when one of my Storytellers passes away, I lose a close friend.
The year that I rescinded my corporate career, I sat next to my Uncle Al at our family reunion. I asked him what was new. He enthusiastically said, "I'm writing my autobiography!" I just about jumped out of my chair, and I couldn't wait to tell him about my news. I asked him if I could help, as a pro bono project, so I could learn how to work with clients.
His book, The Cute One: Memoirs of a Four-Eyed Nerd with Quacky Feet was the second book I helped someone write and publish. He said he wanted to write his story because he was incredibly grateful to God for the life he was given. He felt blessed and wanted everyone to know that they could experience similar blessings.
I spent more than twelve hours interviewing him and recording his stories (mostly on the phone), many more hours asking follow-up questions and refining the narrative. The day I presented his book for his review, he started to cry and then proceeded to read his book five times over the next week. (That's when a memoirist knows she succeeded, even if no one else ever reads the story.)
I learned so much about Uncle Al's life, his beliefs, and his values. He blessed me with information about family members I never had the chance to meet, and as he related stories about my grandfather, who passed away when my father was fifteen, my uncle filled a void that I had nursed my entire life.
I didn't expect it, but I became close friends with someone who was more than thirty years my senior.
Most people cannot comprehend the depth of
friendship that evolves as my clients and I work together.
At Christmastime, my uncle would order us a box of Honeybell oranges as a gift to be delivered in January when they were ripe—the sweetest and juiciest oranges I've ever tasted. My kids began to look forward to those oranges every year!
He was born in early January, so I'd call to thank him for the treats and to wish him a happy birthday. He'd finish up the call with another thank you for helping him write his book and a reminder of how proud he was of all of his family members. I knew when he'd start to name each of us, one by one, and recite our accomplishments that our call would be extended, but I didn't care. It was inspiring to hear about the joy he experienced talking about his family. My mood would take an upward turn, and the rest of my day would be more positive.
When he shuffled into the backyard for the family reunion, Uncle Al always gave me a bouquet of flowers as a token of his appreciation for hosting. He'd play with the kids—one year, he instigated a water gun fight (see photo above)—and tell silly jokes that he thought were hilarious. (He even challenged me to find a way to weave two of his "Dad" jokes into his book!)
He'd catch up with his siblings and their spouses. He'd admire the yard that my husband meticulously groomed, and he'd dote on his beautiful yellow bird, my Aunt Agnes. We even held his book signing during one of the reunions.
Without fail, every time I spoke to Uncle Al, he thanked me for helping him. And I thanked him for the opportunity as well as the chance to learn from and about him and my ancestors. He was one of my ardent and most vocal supporters.
This year would have been a difficult reunion for me, so I'm glad that it was postponed. Next year, we'll resume the event, and I'll find some way to honor my uncle.
I am so thankful that I have his story—in writing and recorded in his own voice—and I know I was blessed to have his friendship. Thank you, Uncle Al, the Kiddies' Pal, author of The Cute One: Memoirs of a Four-Eyed Nerd with Quacky Feet.
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