Justin Tadlock

Dear Uncle Donald

I can’t pretend to know much about theology or what happens to us after we leave this world. Far greater men than I have studied this for centuries. I don’t know if you gave that much thought to it in your lifetime. It was never a topic of our conversations over the years. So, I can only write in terms of what I do know: you as a living man here on this earth, in this world, and in my lifetime.

For most of my life, we’d never been close, at least not that I can remember. I was a kid, so I was out and about doing things that kids do. That means I didn’t have a care in the world for anything going on outside my own tiny universe. I wish I had a fraction of the wisdom back then as I do now. I probably would have paid more attention and gotten to know more about you and others in my family. I was on my way out of this place. I had my eyes set on far bigger things than this small bend in the woods. Eventually, I made my way home and had to re-learn so much of the things that I’d lost, or had never learned in the first place.

You were one of those people who helped me regain some of that. As your great nephew, you didn’t owe me much. I wasn’t one of your children or grandchildren. But, you always asked me how I was doing and what was going on in my life. To be honest, it’s not much different 10 miles down the road. Pretty much the same thing’s are going on. I’m sure you knew that, but you listened to my stories of mundane life and diatribes on trivial matters anyway. Listening is a skill I hope I can develop as I grow older because having someone listen to me, no matter how small the matter, I’ve found, is an important quality. It’s not something that dawned on me until I began to think about what a world without you would be like. Pardon me if I’m being a bit selfish, but that’s one less person I can share my insights on life with. I can only hope to pay the same favor forward to others in my own life.

I know bits and pieces of your life. I’m glad I was able to hear some of your stories. Understanding how my family lived in the past has given me at least some humility. Your life certainly wasn’t all rose pedals and daisies, but no one’s life is perfect. I do know that you had to get a few things right because you were loved. Your sister, my grandmother, is the one person I know in this world who truly loves with her whole heart. I’ve been the recipient of that love for nearly 30 years. You got to know her for a lot longer. Your sisters are just like her. That’s a rare gift, one you should be proud to have shared in. Your brothers…well…they’re all right too.

I’ve been told that everyone dies alone, but that’s hard for me to believe. You’re surrounded by family. I hope that when my time comes, I have as many people who will love and stick by me ‘til the end.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to appreciate the importance of family. Families are going to fuss and fight and laugh and cry. At the end of the day, we’re pretty much stuck with each other, so you get used to it. We’re not a family of grand poets, revolutionary politicians, rock-stars, or anything of the sort. We’re just regular ol’ folks from Alabama. We’re just people, and most of the time we’ve been given the short end of the stick. That’s not news to either one of us. It’s just life, and we do what we can with it.

I’d like to end by saying thank you for some of the things you’ve contributed to my life.

Thank you for listening in the past and for listening today. I promise I’m nearly done and will allow you to go into the afterlife in peace.

Thank you for sharing memories of your life with me. As an aspiring writer, stories are my lifeblood. If I ever become a novelist, I think I can at least name a character after you.

Thank you for the gardening knowledge you’ve imparted over the past couple of years. My squash plants have come a long way from the eight total fruit of that first season.

Thank you for trusting me enough to carry you from the car to the front porch that one time. I’m just glad you weighed about 100 lbs. less than me because I’m not that strong yet.