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Tribute to Uncle Don


Dear Violet:

My Uncle Don died last Saturday.

I can still be 4, and see him get out of his car in front of our house in Mt. Tabor, and walk through knee-deep snow, laden with gifts for us at Christmas time. He was grinning. I was all splotchy, with measles, feeling miserable, and here was Uncle Don, my hero! He was so handsome, with his red hair, and always grinning! He was always my friend.

I can still be 8, and finishing a piano lesson, when Mrs. Tressler's doorbell rang, and Uncle Don came in, grinning. He took me to Yaw's, and we had hamburgers and butterscotch tarts. We went, then to his apartment, because I could spend the night! That was when I learned that "nice girls dress in the bathroom," and "nice girls never leave any indication that they were in the bathroom." And in the morning, we had breakfast at the Congress Hotel counter! I had never eaten breakfast there before, and it was such fun!

I can still be 3, and we were going to the zoo, but first, we had to go to Uncle Don's apartment. The reason for that was that he had to go to the toilet. Until that moment, I had not realized that everybody goes to the toilet. I thought that I was the only person who did that, and that it was
dirty. He explained that everyone does, and it is not dirty; it is good for us, and we wash our hands afterward.

I can still be 5, and hear my Uncle Don explaining to me why people go "to the office." [I didn't know anybody who went "to work;" our family members either went to the office or to school (teachers).] I was familiar with the word "money," but I didn't know that people needed it. I had no idea in the world how people got money or what they did with it. All I knew about buying things was that the price of an ice cream cone was a milk bottle. Anyway, Uncle Don explained that when people go to the office, they are going to do their work so that they can get money, and that everything one has requires money. Parents share money with children, and when children grow up, they have to earn their own money. Uncle
Don always worked very hard, and performed his work very well. He was an attorney. [I sort of knew what that was, because my father taught me to read from the law books he would read at night.] Uncle Don worked at a place called Liberty Fuel & Ice, when I was little. They had a dicta-phone, and he let me sing into it and hear myself. I sang a song called "Jelly Bean."

I seemed to be in trouble most of the time when I was a kid. When we lived in Mt. Tabor, I spent a lot of time tied to the clothesline. That would probably be called "child abuse" nowadays. When I wasn't tied up, I would leave, and walk great distances, without permission. If I had a streetcar
token, I would ride the streetcar. I never got lost, but I knew that I could ask a policeman or cab driver, if I did. Uncle Don told me that if my parents didn't know where I was, they would be worried, and that is why I shouldn't leave without permission.

I knew that some things were good and some things were bad, but I didn't know why, except after Uncle Don explained them. Without Uncle Don, I would have known only that I was a "disgrace to the family," and that I "can't do anything right." I would not have known why, or how I should do it next time.

I can still be 11, and having been to Salem at Uncle Glen's house, he and Uncle Don decided the three of us would go out for dinner. I don't remember the name of the place, but it had a ballroom, and we danced! Uncle Don told the proprietor that he was my father - apparently that wasn't a place one usually took children - and after that, I sometimes called him "My red-headed Daddy."

I can still be 6, and just finishing second grade. It was time for an overnight at Mauga's (my grandmother; Uncle Don lived there), and Uncle Don was going to take me to church the next day. It was an Episcopal church, and "nice girls wear hats to church." Uncle Don took me to Meier & Frank's and helped me choose a hat, which he bought. It was white, sort of like a bonnet, and had pink roses around the front. I wanted to have a black veil, too; there was one there with butterflies on it. He told me that wouldn't look nice, but when I grew up, he would see that I had a hat with a black veil. He also decided that I should have white, shiny Mary Janes to wear with my white hat, because brown shoes weren't good with white hats. It was fun the next day, because we all got to sing, and Uncle Don told me I sing nicely. "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," we sang.

I can still be 10, and go to the office with my father. At lunch time, Uncle Don came in, and we all went to lunch at Huber's. There were mostly men in there. We stood in line, and got trays with plates, knives, and forks on them. The only stuff Huber's had was turkey, ham, or roast beef, mashed
potatoes, and cole slaw. Uncle Don told the man that I would like a little of each; the three men wielding knives and roasts each sliced a little and put it on my plate. They got their lunches, and we all sat down to eat together. Uncle Don and my father talked of things I didn't understand. It
seemed they would frequently talk, laugh, and one of them would say, "Down, Gilmore!" and they'd laugh some more. When I grew up, I learned what that meant!

I can still be 16, and my mother told me to get enough clothes for three days, and move into my sister's bedroom. We were going to have a guest. Uncle Don arrived, with the prettiest woman I had ever seen, and she was taken to my room. After putting things away in my room, she came upstairs and joined the rest of us. She smiled, Uncle Don grinned, everybody talked, and it was nice. I got a coke for myself, drank of it, and burped loudly. Uncle Don told me that it is very rude to burp. I didn't do it any more when he was there - but I did it a lot when he wasn't!

I made an excuse of some sort, and went to my room. I looked into my closet, and saw the beautiful clothes that Sue had put in there. There were two formals; one had an ivory background, with pale orange and rust flowers. I don't remember the other one. Uncle Don and Sue left, my mother said, "Have a good time," and, although I waited up until quite late, I
didn't see them come home. When I got up in the morning, Uncle Don's car wasn't there, but Sue was in my bed (I peeked in the window). (I can't believe how nosey I was!!) I got a chance to talk with her a little bit, but not very much. She was so very pretty, and Uncle Don grinned at her a lot. She was not very much older than I -- six or seven years, maybe.
She still isn't! She left after a couple of days, and said she had a lot of things to think about.

Uncle Don had a Buick. When he went into the Navy, he told Auntie Vaughn that she could use his car while he was gone. She came to get me after a music lesson, and when we turned left out of the side street into a main street, she turned too widely, made an awful noise, and hit several parked cars. I never saw the car again, and I think that is the last time
Auntie Vaughn ever drove. That was probably fortunate.

I don't know how old I was when Uncle Don came home from the Navy after WWII. I knew he was going to come to our house, and I put on my nicest clothes, and sat on the sofa all night waiting for him. He arrived the next night, when I was so tired, I couldn't wait up for him another night!

I can still be 17, and overhear a conversation between my father and Auntie Vaughn (who was always very old) wherein they discussed the "delivery of the ring." Somehow I didn't think it was the Ring of the Neibelung, but a much more important ring. It was to be delivered in San Francisco, and Uncle Don was very nervous about it. They couldn't seem to say, "Don is going to propose marriage to Sue and give her an
engagement ring;" anybody would have understood that.

It is quite a ring, too. I have been known to make jokes about Sue having a
left arm that is about a foot longer than the right, because that diamond is
so heavy. It is a lovely ring that would befit a queen. It is almost as pretty as Sue.

Not long after, there was a wedding in Montana to which my parents went. It was just before that that Uncle Don gave me a black cocker spaniel, whom I named, "Princey." Uncle Don probably didn't know that the dog was named after him.

I can still be 7, and walking to Laurelhurst Park from Mauga's, with Uncle Don. We got to do swings and rings, and teeter-totters, and, best of all,
we had brought stale bread to feed to the geese, swans, and ducks.

I can still be 8, and be asleep in the loft when we lived at the farm. We
were all sleeping in the same room, in three beds (Judy and I shared).
Suddenly, somebody was walking up the stairs. My father picked up his rifle from under his bed, and sat there, waiting for the person to reach the top of the stairs. It was Uncle Don, and he was weeping. Mauga had died. Everybody was upset. We went down to the kitchen, the grown-ups had coffee while Judy and I ate something. While my parents were dressing, I asked Uncle Don why everybody was crying. He told me what it meant to be dead, and I hated it that we wouldn't see Mauga any more. Mauga was always good to me; she really was my "mother figure" and my solace. He told me that she would be in heaven and that it was okay, but I didn't believe that for a minute. There is nothing okay about somebody you love being all-of-a-sudden gone forever. It wasn't okay then, and it isn't okay now.

I can still be about 20, and visiting Sue in the hospital. She had given
birth to John, and she and Uncle Don were very happy, although Uncle Don
said his gadget had been bothering him, and Sue said, "Shhh." We decided to
go look at the baby, and Sue started to get out of the bed. She was
bare-foot, of course, and I saw her feet. She had such pretty feet, I
stared at them as she got out of the bed. Uncle Don probably didn't know I
was staring at her feet, and he held her robe across her as she finished getting up. He was such a gentleman.

When Uncle Don and Sue got married, they really did become one spirit. I
loved them as much as I loved him. They really did merge, and were always of prime importance to one another. They were both always good to me, and never made me feel inadequate. When I became pregnant for the first time, I talked things over with Sue. (My mother never gave birth - Judy and I were adopted.) It was good to have somebody to talk to about women-things.

It was good to see how a real marriage worked. I didn't really know how to
be married, or how to interact with my husband. My father was always drunk and my mother always ran things, and I thought that was the way it was supposed to be. I didn't know how to cook, and if I asked my mother basic questions, she would laugh and suggest that I was stupid. I could ask Sue anything without subjecting myself to ridicule. She was patient, and kind. I must have driven her almost wild sometimes. She probably didn't know she was holding me together when I was coming apart.

I have always had a deficit in the areas of understanding basic things and
completing small tasks. It wasn't funny; it isn't funny, and Sue is the
person who showed me that it is okay to ask.

There were a lot of conflicts among the McCormicks, and I can remember
several times when Uncle Don said we were not to mention "this" to Sue. He always protected her from skeletons and other bad stuff. She knew anyway; I don't think it was or is possible to put anything over on her.
These people epitomized perfection. They both knew, always, how to deal
with any situation. They knew what to say, what to do. Uncle Don always
knew everything - all my life, I knew that he knew everything, and that he
would explain everything to me. I guess that their "merging" gave Sue the same tasks, and she already had the same skills.

[I believe that each person has "assignments;" problems to solve and tasks
to perform, that are outside of the usual duties that come with just being
alive. I believe that I was probably one of his/their assignments, and that
they performed their task heroically, without complaining.]

There has never been anything that I could do for them, except to love them and honor them. I guess worship them, in a way. "Idolize" is probably a better term.

I can still be about 12, and shop at Meier & Frank's with Uncle Don, for a
red sweater that could be buttoned either in front or in back, and for the
latest wooden shoes from Oscar Austaad. I can still wonder why Uncle Don
was so good to me.

I can still wonder why Sue is so good to me. I can still be thankful for
both of them, and I am.

They both attended my high school graduation. That kind of torture has yet to be equalled. [I mean attending a high school graduation.] They were surprised to learn that I could really sing, and they were pleased that I earned the Music Award. Afterward, they, my parents, and I went to the
Dorrway and had sundaes.

Last Tuesday morning, a client/friend invited Larry and me to his house to
watch the meteor showers. We were going to have dinner, take naps, and go out to Paul and Lois' about 10:30 p.m. We had dinner, and were talking
about the meteor showers, when the phone rang. I think it was the most
awful phone call I ever received, and probably every reply I made was
somehow inappropriate.

It was good of Sue to call me. As always, she managed this event
perfectly - wisely. We didn't talk very long; I was so devastated, I didn't
even have the strength or presence of mind to say anything comforting to
her. After we hung up the phone, I just wailed and wept and Larry comforted me, and felt bad, too, because he had met Uncle Don, liked and respected him, and because he knew that Uncle Don was just about my "everything." Jim Garner came over, and we had some music while I wept, and soon it was 10:00 and I decided it would be good for us to go watch the meteors. We made coffee, dressed warmly, and drove out into the boonies.

I decided that we would celebrate Uncle Don's life, and out on Paul and
Lois' deck, in complete darkness, we stared at a bazillion stars. Each time
a meteor streaked across the sky, we were awed, and Uncle Don was there, in every one.





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