While I was in Colorado this week I went to see my 88 year old uncle.
He stays in an assisted living facility now, with increasing dementia robbing him of the ability to care for himself.
Driving up the interstate on my way to visit him, I thought about all the times he’d driven me around Houston when I was a little girl. He worked as a claims adjustor for Allstate and could zip-zoom through Houston traffic better than anyone I’ve ever known. If you were moving too slowly behind him, well, you were lucky if all you got was a look when we passed you.
You might say he was a bit impatient.
And if you crunched potato chips too loudly sitting next to him at the table, he asked you if you were enjoying the gravel. I learned to hold chips in my mouth until they got soggy before chewing them up.
I never talked to him on the phone that he didn’t tell me a joke.
If I was sick, he’d say, “well, God love it,” or “bless its tiny time.”
The last time I visited him, four years ago, he was still living at home. He drove me to a Chinese restaurant near his house for lunch, and other than repeating himself a lot, he was still very much my Uncle Bud.
This time when I called him “Uncle Bud,” he asked me who that was.
We looked at old photographs in a book his oldest son had made for him. We looked at some I had brought on my laptop.
I sat with him, watching him drift off to sleep for awhile, and then wake to ask me, “Now whose daughter are you?”
“I’m your sister, Betty Jean’s, daughter – I’m Sally,” I’d say. Over and over.
And sometimes his eyes would brighten and a brief smile would come across his otherwise blank face.
Most likely I was just someone kind who came by to see him this week.
But at those moments he would take my hand in both of his feeble, rough, dry hands and very gently pat. Then he would raise my hand slowly to his lips, kiss the back of my hand and hold it to his face for the longest time.