My first impression from the news was sadness mixed with joy; joy, for knowing that his soul was now with the Lord above and that it could only bring thankfulness and blessings to our memories of him. I could also take comfort that his struggles with his recent medical problems were now over.
The past year or so had been difficult for him and the family with his health issues. It seemed his age had finally caught up with him and that he was finally susceptible to the medical problems that face most elderly people. Up to then, he had led an abundantly healthy life. As long as I could recall, he and my Aunt Norma would walk every day. This was as much of their daily routine as was their morning devotional and prayer. Like Grandma and Grandpa Tron, they would rise early before dawn and sit at the kitchen table reading God’s Word and praying together, a scene as beautiful as life itself.
Unfortunately, we never got to see enough of him and Aunt Norma.
I could never recall them living close, rather always far away. When they would come home to New Harmony for visits, the family would all come into Grandpa and Grandma’s house to fellowship with our distant family. I could recall how my dad would seem to straighten up a bit more and our acts of foolishness would be less tolerated, for after all, Aunt Norma and Uncle Bill were coming. I could probably tell you without knowing they were coming to visit, just based on how everyone seemed to primp, tidy and prepare as if we were being inspected. The irony of it all was that neither Uncle Bill or Aunt Norma were at all bothered by what they saw and could care less how well we dressed or straight we sat at the table, rather, they looked at us to see within ourselves for who we were and what our souls had to say about us. Yes, they were probably the first people I had known that exhibited the characteristic of what it is to be truly Christian, for they carried themselves as such. Their devotion to their faith was not only lip service, it was factual. The adherence to the Sabbath was strict and obedient. In essence, if there were anything that caused us to walk taller and tighten our belts was their straight and narrow path upon which they walked, which caused us to want to do the same. Whenever a Sunday school lesson would ask, “Who in your life would you say are your Christian mentors,” Aunt Norma and Uncle Bill would be the first people to come to mind; that was their legacy. I can safely say that many in our family feel the same way.
So, for many years as my life continued on, I would occasionally hear of them moving to this place or that, but eventually they finally settled down and retired in Florida.
As my own life’s travels carried me from one place to another, I eventually found myself living on the outside looking in, having also moved away from New Harmony, something I would have never have imagined as a child.
Now I too had become a distant relative.
As life’s journey carried on, I was eventually able to begin attending classes at the University of Florida in Gainesville. An added benefit to my school location was that I finally found myself living within easy traveling distance to Aunt Norma and Uncle Bill’s house. So, when time allowed, I would stop by and visit them in Punta Gorda on my journeys to and from college. On our visits, we would always withdraw to the back of the house, in their Florida room, where we would sit and look out at the beautiful lake behind their home. Like some folks sit around the TV and visit, we would sit idly admiring the living scenery before us as a tranquility of peacefulness would settle upon our hearts. The soft-spoken voice of Uncle Bill would add to the passive serenity before us as we sat and discussed the myriad of tales life had presented since our last visit. Uncle Bill would always take the time to listen to my current plights and struggles and would offer gentle advice while Aunt Norma would listen and agree as we talked. I always found myself inspired from our visits, no matter how much confusion was in my life. In all my journeys, I still cherish those visits knowing they are now part of my collective memory.
On one of my trips, I spent the night and had more time to visit than normal. By chance, I reviewed the items in the bookshelf in the room in which I was staying. Besides numerous Bibles, I also found countless volumes of quarterly Bible study guides with important verses and sayings underlined or highlighted. I was struck by the depth of devotion and intensity of worship the notes in these pamphlets represented. Again, I was reminded of the sincerity of my Aunt and Uncle’s faith and how deeply compassionate their lives had been being devoted to God and the work to which they were called. During that same visit, they took me by their church where they had worked tirelessly for many years creating a food bank and clothes exchange for the less fortunate in their area. Their travels away from home were limited in part due to their commitment to the church. I recall once when I asked about them visiting New Harmony and their daughter who lived in the northeast they replied that they had trouble getting away from the food bank since it was hard to find enough volunteers to man the store while they were away. I was confounded at this but realized they were so devoted to their belief that it was unthinkable for them to leave something they felt called to lead. Once again, I had to admire them for their obligation.
Ninety-seven years is a long, prosperous life to live. I know my cousins, Sarita and Robert, will miss their father. I know Aunt Norma will never be the same without Uncle Bill by her side. For all of these family members and more I ask the Lord to look over them and provide them the comfort they will need in the coming days and weeks ahead. I am very remiss about not writing that letter to Uncle Bill before he passed. He wasn’t one to read emails, so I had planned to write him a letter and print it out then mail it the old fashioned way. Just this past weekend I thought of it again and realized time was quickly passing for us all. Yet, now I know he knows all I had to tell and more and again, for that I am grateful.
So this evening, as I reflect over the far too few times in life we had to spend together, I realize that my Uncle Bill was more than an elder of the family, he was our spiritual leader as well. His and Aunt Norma’s legacy will live on through the rest of us and for that I know we will always be thankful.
May God bless you and keep you Uncle Bill; till we meet again at the Eastern Gate,
– love your nephew, Timothy.