My Godfather Was a Living Large Influence in My Life
I lost another influential person from my childhood this week.
My parents’ good friend – the man who stood up at my christening and agreed to be my Godfather – passed away.
My Uncle Virg and Aunt Grace lived five doors up from us in that neighborhood of post-war bungalows. It was a railroad town and every man on our side of the street worked for the railroad.
In the 60s, when my parents were best friends with them, we did everything together. Our families celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, homecomings from Vietnam for their older military sons and weekend bar-b-ques.
There isn’t an old 8mm home movie we have that doesn’t include them.
But it wasn’t all play; when our parents wanted to renovate or expand our little bungalows, the other family was there.
My mom always amusingly told the story of how she wanted to cover the stubborn original wallpaper on the walls in our living room. When my dad and Uncle Virg surveyed the walls and said it couldn’t be done, my mom said, “Aunt Grace and I sat there, waited for them to leave and then got up and did it.”
It was also my dad who helped them expand their little bungalow up the street by helping Uncle Virg through several weekends of hand-digging a basement.
My mother never admitted it, but I even believe that on some level, it was also their experience as mid-life parents that prompted my mother’s “accidental” pregnancy with me.
Mike, their mid-life child, was born just three years before me and I think my mom, seeing an empty nest looming before her, really wanted to start again too.
Our families were so close that when my Aunt Grace’s mother came to visit, it was an event not just for her and her family, but for ours as well. “Grandma Quinn” became mine too, after my own died when I was just two.
We even vacationed together.
They had one of those 1960s era great big green cars, something we would refer to as a “boat” now, and I remember a vacation not too far from here, on Stockton Lake, in which my mother gathered a bunch of pretty lakebed rocks for her rock garden.
Uncle Virg and my dad loaded the rocks into the trunk of their huge green monster of a car and the guys followed us girls home in our Ford Rambler.
My dad and Uncle Virg laughed for years about how the back of that car was practically dragging the highway and they didn’t think it would make it home.
Their friendship wasn’t perfect, there were minor tiffs and misunderstandings, but they always found their way back to each other’s living rooms for mid-morning coffee klatches.
When we moved from our little green bungalow and my dad died, the surviving three still remained close.
Not as close, maybe as when we were neighbors, but for the times it mattered.
Aunt Grace and Uncle Virg and my mother still saw each other, especially for events such as weddings and milestone birthdays and not-so-happy events such as my brother’s funeral and later, Aunt Grace’s.
Uncle Virg was too ill by the time my mother passed away to be a pallbearer, but I asked Mike to take the place of his father, as I know if Uncle Virg was able he would have wanted to be there for her for that final event.
Mike (who in childhood, was like a brother to me) and I reconnected a few years ago. Now, he and his wife, Charlotte (who also went to school with all of us), are two of our closest friends, just as our parents once were.
One of my last memories of Uncle Virg was of the day Aunt Grace passed away. I pulled up to their house. He was beginning a descent into Alzheimer’s and I wasn’t sure he would recognize me.
After giving me a long hug and saying, “It’s so good to see you, Kerri Sue,” I sat down in the warm sunshine with him on the front porch. For the most part, we just sat in silence for a while. We were both too sad to say much of anything.
During the ensuing years, Mike gave us progress reports on his father’s health and even toward the end, sprinkled in bits of his father’s humor that proved that awful disease could sometimes rob him of his memory, but couldn’t permanently steal his wit and humor.
In the end, he passed peacefully; free of pain and not aware of the confusion that so often plagued his mind.
I imagine him now in the sunshine, back with Aunt Grace, maybe even having a few laughs once again with my parents.
We were not rich in material things. We had very small houses in a neighborhood filled with blue collar families and small houses just like ours, but our families somehow all knew what living large was all about, and I would say that was especially true for Uncle Virg.
I have all of them to thank, in part, for showing me how to make the most of my life too.
Do you have special influences from your childhood that helped shape your life?