Uncle Somebody

Thirty-seven years ago, I sat at my dinner table at 106 Ramona Avenue in South San Francisco. It was my family home and I had spent my life sprinting in and out of this room chasing and chased by brothers (and my dog, Paint), enjoying conversation with my family and shoveling down food.

This night was different. I had flown in from college to go to my Mom’s funeral. My cousin, Ken Hansell, sat across the table from me and told me stories about my mother. They were funny, heartwarming and, well, it turns out her kids inherited her gift for sneaking in the house late at night. I was lucky to have family like Ken and his wife of 71 years, Alyse.

Today, I am traveling to Ken’s funeral.

Arthur Schopenhauer noted:

“When you look back on your life, it looks as though it were a plot, but when you are into it, it’s a mess: just one surprise after another. Then, later, you see it was perfect.”

I talked about how I discovered that my Mom was dying in my free book, From Dad to Grad.

(You can also buy it on Kindle and read the reviewer who complained it was free on my site.)

I wrote this in 2004:

My mom died of breast cancer. She got the disease before the modern treatments and it quickly got out of hand. My father continued to guarantee that mom was getting better and better, but then your Aunt Corinne would call and tell me she was getting worse. Since I was living in Utah and they were all in South San Francisco, all I had to go on was the telephone…so, I believed my dad.

At the time, I was just starting my Masters Degree at Utah State University in Logan…a good two-hour drive to the North from Salt Lake City when you could legally only drive 55 miles per hour. A group of us arranged to come down to see Phyllis Diller in concert with the Utah Symphony. She was a comedian and the seats for the matinee were very cheap.

So, about four of us came down to Salt Lake City one afternoon and watched the show. It was pretty funny, but I barely remember now. As we left the theater, it was still day and we had that odd sensation when you come out of a dark building and it feels likeyou get a whole new day given to you.

Yet, jogging down the street was a friend of mine from South San Francisco, Howard Will. It took God some extra work to arrange this: I lived in Logan, and then went to a show in SLC and a buddy from SSF jogs by us. A minute or so either way and I would have missed Howard.

Howard had “heard” that mom was doing really, really badly and I got on a plane and saw her. She looked terrible and died not long after. The last time I saw her, I started to cry and she told me to “Get out of here.” Not the great last words you expect if you are used to movies, but I think I understand better now that I am a parent.

Ken made an interesting point that night at the kitchen table: People don’t go to weddings, reunions, and family events. Yet, everybody comes to funerals. He had this idea that we should call up members of our family every so often and lament that “Uncle Somebody” died and we all need to meet and gather.

Tomorrow, it is Ken’s funeral and we will all gather and bury one of the best of the best. He was certainly “Somebody.”

And…will be missed.

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