February 13, Ash Wednesday

So I’m 32 years old. This isn’t a zone of life where any given birthday is likely to signify much. I’m too old for any more civil milestones and way too young for anyone to be impressed I’ve made it this far. This is a birthday where you get an automatic postcard from the car insurance people letting you know you might just be eligible for a lower rate. I got phone calls from my family and a cake at the office and some friends bought me dinner; I’m grateful for all of these things, and there’s not much to say about it.

Except there’s this: My Uncle Ron would have been 61 today.

He died in early June, a heart attack, cutting wheat in a field in Kansas. They put his picture on the front page of the Salina paper, and we buried him next to his parents in a plot on the hill overlooking the farm where he and my dad and all the rest of them grew up.

I’ve tried a hundred times since then to write about him, to stitch the memories of who he was and what he meant to us into something that I could show you and say read this and you might know something about who we lost. I want to talk about how he gave me and half my cousins ridiculous nicknames before we could talk that have quietly stuck with us into adulthood. About how much I’ve come to understand he did for his family when his own father died too soon. How he teased us mercilessly, because we loved him for it. How I remember him angry at something - the shape of his life or something else I couldn’t see - when I was young, and how later on, with Carol and his grandkids, he was a better man than that anger; better, I think, than a lot of people ever manage.

I never get very far. I’m not sure I’m up to the task. But I sit here and I remember that we were too far out of touch and I didn’t call him last year on his 60th, and I feel like hell and I think I shouldn’t let this one go unremarked.

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