A bright light on the darkest day

Almost a century ago, in a very small town, my great-grandparents started a family business. They opened an automotive garage where they sold and fixed cars. They also had one of those old fashioned gas stations with two pumps and a wrecker service. They built a house next door to their business and had 4 children. My great-grandma passed away when I was five and my great-grandpa and great uncle passed away before I was born.

After serving in the military, Aunt Grace and Uncle Harold being single moved back into the family house to help run the family business. Their brother, my grandpa, moved down the road within walking distance. I never remember the siblings ever fighting.

Aunt Grace did all of the finance for the family business with some help from my grandma. Uncle Harold and my grandpa worked as mechanics. Today, on the darkest day of the year, was Uncle Harold’s birthday. But there was nothing dark about Uncle Harold. He was a very quiet, friendly man that loved to laugh.

Every year Aunt Grace would throw Uncle Harold a birthday party. It was always the same year after year. She would set the table with the best fiesta dishware that were stored behind the glass cupboard in the pantry. Everyone had a different colored plate that was used only once a year for this special occasion.  She would serve steak, baked potatoes, and a vegetable with coffee to drink, even for the kids. She had an old fashioned stove that she cooked on. It required her to put little pieces of wood into a fire on the left side of the stove. For dessert, we always had pineapple upside down cake. Afterwards, Aunt Grace made me help her do the dishes and clean up.

I didn’t see Uncle Harold a lot growing up. He was always working in the garage. I wasn’t supposed to go inside the garage much because I liked to wear shorts which Aunt Grace said was not proper attire for a young lady. But sometimes I would sneak in to buy a large glass bottle of soda for a quarter. My aunt and uncle were always up at 6 AM. Uncle Harold would eat breakfast then go to work. He would come in for lunch and they would both take a half an hour nap. Aunt Grace slept on her couch and Uncle Harold slept in his chair. Then Uncle Harold would work until 6 PM which was always the time that supper was ready. Most of the time after supper, Uncle Harold would go out to work until 9 or 10 at night. When he came in, he coughed a lot. Working 13 hour days in an unventilated garage did that to him. He usually worked until noon every Saturday and took Sunday off.

Uncle Harold was a generous man both towards his family and his community. He offered a window washing job to an illiterate man who was having a hard time without job skills providing for his family.  He paid for my college tuition. He never wanted anyone to know the good deeds that he did. Money was a topic that I wasn’t even supposed to talk about.  I don’t think I ever thanked him enough for the sacrifice that he made. He paid for my school from stocks that he inherited from his parents that someone gave them when they couldn’t afford to pay their garage bill.

That year I graduated from college in May, got married in August, and was pregnant in October. I remember driving out that fall Saturday to tell the family our news. I never was able to tell Uncle Harold the news personally as he was with a customer that afternoon. Then a month later, he died unexpectedly.

Every year Uncle Harold would take a week off to go hunting with his friends. It was on that trip that he had a heart attack. When he passed away, there was no one left to carry on the family business. Of the four siblings, my dad was the only child born and he wasn’t interested in continuing the family business. In the meantime, Uncle Harold had listed me as heir of that stock which we cashed in to start yet another family business.

So on the darkest day of the year, I will always remember the bright light that was in Uncle Harold. I am sad that he never met my children. Even now, his memory is starting to dim. I hope that in some way through my thoughts today the memory of him will shine on.

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