My Godfather Was a Living Large Influence in My Life

The Little Bungalow where I grew up

 

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?   

 

 

 

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25 Responses

  1. Jane Boursaw says:

    So, so sorry for your loss, Kerri. What a wonderful presence he was – and will continue to be – in your life. Those people are so dear to us.

  2. merr says:

    I am sorry you lost such a special influence in your life, Kerri. It seems like he will be with you, as he always has.

  3. Alisa Bowman says:

    So sorry for your loss. I do have a special influence, my mom’s best friend. I often refer to her as my surrogate mother.

  4. Donna Hull says:

    What a beautiful story and tribute to your Godfather. I grew up in a small bungalow, just as you did. My parents became close friends with another couple from church who also had three children, just like our family. We spent many fun evenings with Aunt Margie and Uncle Earl and their kids. Unfortunately, Uncle Earl died in his late 40’s. It was sort of a wake up call for my parents. As soon as they could, they started traveling more and living a fuller life. I hope your memories will sustain you as you mourn the loss of your Godfather.

    • Kerri says:

      Aren’t those memories wonderful, Donna? My dad died when he was 58. I wonder if his death had the same effect on my Aunt Grace and Uncle Virg?

  5. Sheryl says:

    Beautiful story and priceless memories. I’m so sorry for your loss, Kerri.

  6. Sue says:

    Beautiful touching story, Kerri.

  7. HeatherL says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. You’ve written a beautiful tribute to your Godfather.

  8. I’m so sorry to hear about your godfather.My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s too. Thanks for sharing these wonderful memories. Uncle Virg sounds like an amazing man.

  9. What a beautiful post. May your memories bring comfort to you and your family~
    With love, Irene

  10. I’m so sorry for your loss. The wallpaper story slays me. I can just see the girls getting it done.

    • Kerri says:

      Yep, you know, if someone says it can’t be done, call a woman. 🙂 My mom and Aunt Grace were two feisty ones, I’m sure there wasn’t much that couldn’t be done with them on it.

  11. Kerri, this is beautiful. I hope you will share it with his son. I’m so sorry for your loss, but so happy you had someone like this in your life, who was with you your whole life. It is a great gift. Thinking of you today, my friend.

  12. What a touching story, Kerri! I am so sorry for the loss of this special person in your life. How wonderful that you grew up with such role models, people who knew that what matters in life isn’t material things, but relationships that sustain over a lifetime. And how nice that you have renewed your friendship with Mike. I’m glad you have so many wonderful memories of times spent with your parents and their good friends. May they give you comfort as you grieve the loss of your dear friend.

    • Kerri says:

      Yes, Kathleen, it is this friendship that is definitely a model for sustaining ones for years. My parents were friends with them for over 50 years and now the connection our families share is 60+ years old. I guess that’s where I get the “If you’re my friend, you’re my friend for life” philosophy.