97. Uncle Ron’s Laugh

97. Uncle Ron’s Laugh

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

Uncle Ron’s Laugh

To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love.

In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness.

~Robert Muller

Memories of my childhood in Washington, D.C. are sweet for many reasons, but mainly because of family. There were six kids in mine, plus Uncle Ron and Aunt Lois lived down the street with their three girls. We attended the same school and had the same friends.

In the summer we’d barbecue, with Dad and Uncle Ron drinking beer and grilling. I imagined that Aunt Lois and Mom traded gossip as they prepared side dishes. In the winter, the grownups ate in the dining room while the kids stayed in the kitchen. We’d crowd onto a pink Barbie banquette that I loved, kicking each other under the table.

With nine kids, trips to the Smithsonian and the spring cherry blossom festival probably strained everyone’s nerves, but they were unforgettable. Summers were crammed with swim team and camp. Fall meant jumping into piles of leaves after school. Winter was my favorite season because of Christmas and snow.

This past January, I watched snow falling, cocooning me within a false peace. My nerves were shot. I’d been fortifying myself with numerous cups of hot tea and grilled cheese sandwiches, hoping that comfort food would provide a peace that had eluded me for a year.

Finally, I picked up the phone and dialed one of the few numbers that I’d ever memorized.

Aunt Lois answered on the third ring. I imagined that she’d been in her garden, basking in the quiet of roses and other flowers. I couldn’t remember what it looked like. It had been too long since my last visit to her new home in California.

“Hello Auntie.” My voice shook a little.

“Hi Karla.” Her voice trembled, too.

Suddenly I was a little girl again, running down the street to play with her daughters. She’d scold us and shoo us outside to run off our youthful energy, and then take the sting out of her words with a plate of cookies.

Aunt Lois had been the Bluebird’s troop mother. We met at her house one Saturday a month, seriously recited our pledge and did Bluebird stuff. Amidst the songs and games, Uncle Ron would swoop in with hugs and jokes.

“Ron, we’re busy,” she’d say, waving him away like he was a big kid.

“Bye, girls,” he’d say, winking at us and snatching a cookie from the plate.

His hearty affection was different from the formality of my home. I knew that my parents loved me, but sometimes I wished my dad would laugh like Uncle Ron and call me his chickadee.

I closed my eyes against the onset of tears. If only life included a do-over card to be used in extreme emergencies. Memories of Uncle Ron filled my dreams, waking me up with tears and regrets. I’d lost a precious opportunity to see him before he died, to my everlasting regret.

“I couldn’t call you during the holidays. I couldn’t bear not hearing his voice.” Despite my good intentions, I sobbed my apologies into the phone.

“I know, dear. He loved you too.” Her sweetness made me feel worse. Her husband of fifty-one years had died a year ago. I should’ve been comforting her, yet here she was comforting me instead, reaching out with loving warmth that hadn’t faded over the years.

I stumbled through the conversation, told her that I’d call again soon and hung up. I leaned my head against the receiver. Pippin, our newest cat, curled against my legs in silent sympathy. I curled up on the bed, nesting among the rose and white comforters like I used to when I was a kid. I wished that life could be that simple again, with cookies and Bluebirds, and family just a hop away.

I hadn’t forgiven myself for not seeing him before he died. For the last two and a half years, I’d been a flight attendant for a regional airline. I could manage short trips that took two hours or less, but any longer and I got sick. The thought of being on a plane over four hours made me get dizzy and run for the nearest bathroom.

I’d tried to force myself to do it. I even made a list of reasons why it was silly not to. I didn’t have to pay for a ticket. California was sunny. We could sit in the garden and laugh.

I’d desperately wanted to see him, but now it was too late. One of his constant comments floated through my misery. His gravelly voice with its hint of Southern whiskey and bawdy humor always cracked me up. Throughout the years, he’d listened to my dating stories, ready to run to my rescue.

“Tell old Uncle Ron what’s on your mind. If some fellla is bothering you, tell him that I may be old, but I still got a can of whup ass for him.”

In between the laughter and talking ran a thread of love that made him so special to me. He was the father behind my dad, the father I could talk to about anything. I confided my worst fears, as well as my most laughable moments to him. He’d regaled me with stories of all of us growing up together.

That night, I dreamt of him. I was standing at the grill in the back yard of our old house in D.C. cooking hamburgers. He walked through the smoke, eyes twinkling like he’d just told an off-color joke. I almost didn’t recognize him, so young and handsome he appeared. Behind him, I caught a glimpse of another man, gray eyes smiling, just as tanned and fit. My father.

“Uncle Ron,” I said, taking a step toward him. “Daddy?” The bright sunshine touched us all with gold, almost too intense for me to see. I squinted, shading my eyes with my hand. Raising his hand in farewell, Daddy disappeared, like his job was done.

I couldn’t move forward. I strained futilely to reach Uncle Ron, but the golden light restrained me. He shook his head, a small smile playing about his lips.

“Hey, good looking, I’ll see you again. Then you can hug me as much as you’d like. Figure you’ll need me around to talk about all the fellas whose hearts you broke.”

I laughed along with him. And, just like that, he vanished.

I woke up, gray morning light filtering through the bedroom curtains. I watched as it brightened slowly. As it touched my face, I closed my eyes, imagining the gentleness of sunlight and hearing Uncle Ron’s laughter one more time.

In that moment, I forgave myself, just as he had.

~Karla Brown

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