I know I said my next post would be about our trip to Chicago, but it’ll have to wait. My great-uncle Jim passed away last night.
Uncle Jim was the third of four boys: There was my grampy, Bob, and then my great-uncle Bill, who was about six years younger than my grampy, and then my great-uncle Jim, who was only a year and a few months younger than Uncle Bill, and then my great-uncle Jack, who was six or seven years younger than Uncle Jim. They’re all gone now. My grammy, my great-aunt Jean, and my great-aunt Laura Jean have all passed on too, so Great-Aunt Nell, Uncle Jim’s wife, is the only one left from that generation.
And what a generation they were! I’m so blessed to have grown up in a family of so many kind, hard-working, intelligent people. My grampy and Uncle Jim were both math professors, and Uncle Jack was a history professor. Uncle Bill was a top engineer for GE who traveled all over, fixing crises. They’ve passed on their knowledge and values to three subsequent generations (as of now), and they started the tradition of getting the whole family together every two summers. I’m so grateful for that, because otherwise I probably wouldn’t know so many of my dad’s cousins and my amazing second-cousins.
People used to joke that you could always tell which girl Uncle Jim was dating, because she was the one carrying around a dictionary. Uncle Jim made it a point to learn a new word every week and use it in regular conversation. I’ve always imagined that when he met Aunt Nell at the University of Florida, she didn’t need a dictionary. She was the secretary in the math department, where Uncle Jim was studying and my great-grampy was teaching. They raised four amazing kids in North Carolina, where Uncle Jim taught at NC State. They have thirteen grandchildren and, as of now, six great-grandchildren plus one on the way. I always felt like I knew Uncle Jim the best of my great-uncles, probably because most of his grandkids are closer to my age than Uncle Bill’s, and Uncle Jack died when I was only four. Uncle Jim was always kind and gentle, and he knew how to put people at ease. Of course, he had the family penchant for sliding puns into conversations, emails, and any other form of communication. He was a man of God who loved his family and was always interested in what was going on in your life. He was 93 or 94, and he and Aunt Nell were just a few weeks shy of their 67th anniversary.
I’m so glad I got to see and talk to Uncle Jim at the family reunion this summer. Even though he didn’t really know who I was anymore, he asked questions about what I was doing with my life and was able to follow the general thread of the conversation. My cousin Julia, who’s also a math professor, was able to sit and talk with him for a while, and she said when she started talking about math, Uncle Jim’s eyes lit up right away.
I’m grateful that Uncle Jim is at peace now, no longer suffering from the back problems that seem to plague the Wilson men or the complications of the stroke he suffered a few days ago. I’m grateful that all of his children and several of his grandchildren were able to spend time with him this week, and of course Aunt Nell was there too. I’m grateful that Aunt Nell and their nearby children no longer have the stress of watching him decline and trying to coordinate care for him. But mostly I’m grateful to have known Uncle Jim, to hear his stories and laugh at his jokes.
After twenty-three years, the Wilson brothers are back together. I’m sure the puns are wonderfully atrocious.