As we finished a cup of coffee and finished loading the trunk of the car, the phone rang. Too late. The battle was lost. He had died in the early morning hours. Flights and hotels were canceled, and the bags were unloaded. That day sucked.
Its hard to believe a year has passed. I miss conversations and visits with him immensely - even though I know his absence to me pales in comparison to what it means to my aunt and my mother.
One habit I developed the last 2 or 3 years of his life was to call him as I grilled steaks. Every few weeks, it was just a neat opportunity to talk with him from my deck for 20 minutes or as I sipped a beer and waited for medium-well.
A memories have popped back in my head in recent months. I started a draft of this entry months ago when the first one hit, and I continued to add to it with a target publish date of today. Here are a few stories that still make me smile.
- In spring 1984, I needed to land a summer job between college quarters. My uncle said he could arrange a job in the accounts receivable department with his employer. Because I was an accounting major, this would be great practical experience - plus give me the chance to live in Florida for the summer. I quickly accepted and quit looking around Nashville. With about a week to go before the spring quarter ended, he called to say that because he was in sales, the company's nepotism and other control policies prevented me from working in receivables. Instead, he offered me the chance to work in the warehouse loading trucks in non-ventilated trailers. What could I do? So I went from having an air-conditioned desk job to working in trailers that seemed hotter than the seventh level of hell.
- July 4, 1984. My aunt's boss was retiring, and she was about to be promoted to his position. She and my uncle scheduled a retirement party/picnic for him and a ton of co-workers at their house. I offered to help - mow the grass, man the grill, refresh ice on the beer, whatever. A day or two later, my uncle admitted he'd had two tickets to the Firecracker 400 NASCAR race in Daytona. He knew he couldn't go because of the gathering, but he didn't tell me about them because he didn't know if I'd want to go alone. It turns out it was no ordinary race as my racing hero Richard Petty won his 200th career race. Instead of my being there, the tickets went unused on his night stand.
- My uncle, a long-time friend of his, a long-time friend of mine, and I went to a local beer joint in Jacksonville the night before the Daytona 500 in 1994. A table of girls had their eye on my uncle's friend and got him to dance. The others were okay from a distance - but we just kept our seats, drank our beer and continued our conversation. A few songs later, another one claimed my uncle and it was down to my buddy and me. As the two of us continued to talk, we kind of just forgot about the two of them. Let 'em have a good time. Whatever. But then suddenly, my uncle grabbed me by the neck and dragged me to the dance floor. He had recruited a midget - I'm telling you a MIDGET - to dance with me. Now I'll never be mistaken for an NBA player, but I'm hardly in the midget category. But he and his friend were doubled over in laughter while I had to figure a way to wrangle myself out of this awkward situation.
- One of the neatest phone calls I ever received was in summer of 2000. I answered and heard the following challenge: "Hey, guess where I went last night." Now how am I supposed to answer that? So I immediately gave up with "I dunno. Where?" He excitedly said "the Billy Graham Crusade!" He talked a lot that night and much more in the years to follow how his faith was strengthened beginning about that time. He eventually started a men's small group Bible study class on his screened-in porch. He told me they had a great core of guys who enjoyed wrestling with scripture and drinking beer as they discussed it.
- He was a huge sports nut. Lifelong Celtics fan - including sitting 2 rows behind the bench at the old Boston Garden as a 40th birthday gift to himself. Season ticket holder of USFL Jacksonville Bulls and NFL Jacksonville Jaguars for many years. Played fantasy baseball before it became the rage. He attended MLB, NFL, NBA, NASCAR, 'wrasslin', and just about everything else in professional sports - except hockey. I'm glad to say I took him to his one and only NHL game - the Tampa Bay Lightning vs. our Nashville Predators - about 5 or 6 years ago. Unfortunately, the Lightning mopped the floor with the Preds that night. But we had a great visit, shared a number of brews at the game and at a few of the lower Broadway honky-tonks after the game, and he crossed the NHL off his list of sports events to see.