Friday, January 22, 2010

Some People Are Larger Than Life

When I was little my Uncle Tough was larger than life, and I often wished he was my father instead of my uncle. He was the happy-go-lucky type with a twinkle in his eye and to be around him was exciting. It wasn't until I was about 12 that I found out his name was Harold. He always was, and always will be, Uncle Tough to me.

Tough was left with 3 daughters to raise when he met the love of his life, a widow named Helen. She was his brother's new mother-in-law, so when he and Helen got married, his brother became his son-in-law. Helen had another daughter who later married Tough's nephew and that nephew took to calling Tough "Uncle Daddy" and Tough got a real kick out of that.

The picture above is of Tough and Helen on one of their many road trips. They traveled together and saw the country, always laughing and cutting up. I imagined life would be good if I could find a love like theirs.

About 5 years after this picture was taken, Tough developed a very serious cancer condition. Faced with his probable death, he and Helen decided to take one last road trip together before he started a series of surgeries and treatment. When they stopped by to see us, it was hard to tell that he was facing a very serious threat. He repeatedly said his condition was "just a bump in the road" and that he planned to live a long, long life. While he was gone to the store one day, Helen made a statement I've never been able to forget. She said, "I don't know how I'll live without Harold." After they left, we hoped for Tough to get well. Unfortunately, we didn't hope for Helen. Within a few months, Helen developed cancer and soon died. Tough took care of her in the end, instead of the other way around.

Uncle Tough lived another 15 years or so after Helen died. He took his road trips by himself, becoming a snowbird between Arizona and Washington state. He still laughed and joked, but somehow he just never had that twinkle in his eye with Helen gone. I still think of him often and laugh about the stories he told. He's still larger than life to me. The lesson he taught me is to never take life too seriously. The lesson Helen taught me is to be very careful about what you say and believe. I wonder how many times she said "I don't know how I'll live without Harold" before her body took her serious. It appears words can hurt you.

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