The Passing of a Great American
There is no greater description than calling someone a common man. Several of my cousins are struggling with grief this week.
They raised three biological children of their own and when my cousins became adults Uncle Paul and Aunt Laura adopted more kids
My Uncle Paul passed away late Saturday afternoon. Common man used to mean something grand and he certainly represented a moment in this country when people could be counted on to do the right things.
For government purposes he was called a Korean War Veteran but he shied away from the description. His service in the Navy consisted of tracking Soviet submarines. He had too much respect for his peers who suffered and bled at the Chosin Reservoir to claim anything else. When he was discharged he came home and shortly thereafter bought a house a few hundred feet from where he was raised. He was still living there until last month when he was taken to a hospital. It became his final residence.
He married his childhood sweetheart and they were together for decades until her death a few short years ago from cancer. They raised three biological children of their own and when my cousins became adults Uncle Paul and Aunt Laura adopted more kids. Their house was never an empty nest. They were devout Christians. Uncle Paul didn’t care for tobacco and alcohol, although. He never condemned those who used one or both.
He was the oldest child in his family by default. A pair of twins died in infancy and were buried beneath a large tree on the farm. Last fall I visited with him and I promised I would drive him there this coming summer for my first visit to the graves. His 3 younger siblings, including my mother, all died many years ago. They had grown up in poverty when no one had any money and then during the shortages of World War Two.
Many people who grow up in scarcity then try and pile up material goods. My father was in that group. It was different on my maternal side of the family. None of them chased the almighty dollar.
Uncle Paul came home from the Navy and went to register to vote in a very Republican county. Only to be told he had recently voted. He was incensed as he had been sailing the Mediterranean during the previous election. He then registered to vote as a Democrat while maintaining his views as a conservative.
Home was an unincorporated community of 150 people. There were no traffic lights. The Post Office served as the gas station and general store. He liked to drive Chrysler products and explained the Slant-6 was the greatest engine ever made. Having seen the world in uniform he never again traveled.
His nieces and nephews were allowed to take the best looking gourds home for carving at Halloween
He was like the movie dads from the 1940s the sophisticates claim never existed. He didn’t need to see the world. He always had his nose in a book. Forced into retirement early after suffering asbestos poisoning while working construction he preferred reading to television. The names of his children never appeared on a police blotter.
When my own daughter was little, she and her friends watched Disney TV shows about children with rock bands and they dreamed of being famous. Maybe all of the young now have the same dream. Uncle Paul would’ve just shrugged his shoulders. He had family, friends and a church where he could practice his faith. The sophisticates view such a life as drab and uneventful. They may read Thoreau. My uncle exemplified the simple life.
Among my first memories is one where I was wandering his pumpkin patch. His nieces and nephews were allowed to take the best looking gourds home for carving at Halloween. When my dad got transferred to a new job Uncle Paul filled the void. He would drive us to ballgames, shopping and appointments with doctors. And he would share rich stories about growing up in rural America, about swimming in the sea and about the time he met Bobby Lane.
If what I’ve told you makes a man common then we should all long to be the image of the way men used to conduct their lives.