I lost one of my favorite people Sunday. My Uncle Larry — my only uncle — drowned in a boat accident on his favorite lake. He’d spent the night on the lake, and Aunt Cathy spoke to him around 10:30 pm. That was the last we heard of him. His boat drifted into a cove with Dabo, the golden retriever, standing in the bow confused. A person who lived in the cove called the local police and a search began with all the bells and whistles: helicopters, boats, sonar, the works. A fisherman found his body about 7:30 yesterday morning. Cause of death was freshwater drowning.
All of us will miss him. He was one of those people who was capable of filling up a room whenever he entered one. He loved everyone. I don’t remember ever seeing him not smiling. He was always full of mischief. I told his oldest son, my cousin Zach, I didn’t believe Uncle Larry was dead until he told me he’d seen his body. We both held out hope he would show up looking bedraggled and contrite having pulled some foolish stunt to worry everyone even though he meant no harm. This time though, it wasn’t one of Uncle Larry’s pranks; he was really gone.
Sunday was Uncle Larry and Aunt Cathy’s fortieth wedding anniversary as well. As a tow-haired eight-year-old I had been the ringbearer in their wedding where I refused to walk down the aisle right before the wedding started because I learned the rings on my little satin pillow were fake. By that point, Uncle Larry had already been a part of my life for years.
I have many memories of Uncle Larry — entirely too many to list them all, but three stand out in my mind particularly strongly. One was when I was a preteen and he and one of his friends took me to Commerce, GA to the Thunder National Drag Races. Uncle Larry was a car fanatic. He was never quite as happy as when he was behind the wheel of a fast car like one of the Corvettes he drove. We went to the races in his little Dodge Omni and the day was cold and overcast; I almost froze and we went to Wendy’s on the way home. Uncle Larry let me walk around the cars and grounds to my heart’s content. I wasn’t used to such freedom. Whenever I went anywhere with an adult, I was usually chained by a stern look to her side, but then, Uncle Larry never exactly passed for an adult.
Uncle Larry also taught me to drive, which is a good thing because if I’d had to wait on Mama to teach me I’d still be riding a bicycle. The first car I ever drove on my own was his and Cathy’s 1978 Chevy Camaro which was special ordered with a more powerful engine. I remember being fourteen years old (not a legal driving age in South Carolina, by the way) driving down I-385 doing about 80 mph (not a legal speed in South Carolina, by the way), because it wasn’t a car to be driven slowly. We passed a highway patrolman in the other lane and I panicked. I asked Uncle Larry what I was supposed to do if the trooper flipped around and came after us. He smiled and said, “Take the next exit, turn right, and floor it. He can’t catch us!” Much of my driving attitude as a teenager can be chalked up to my driving instructor.
The last memory I have of Uncle Larry is also one of the earliest. It showed me more than anything what it was I loved about the man. I was six years old and we were eating dinner at Granny and Papa Wham’s house to celebrate Aunt Cathy’s birthday. Dinner was over and I was playing with my Hot Wheels in the floor near the old, nonworking stereo. Voices started raising. It was the time my parents’ marriage was disintegrating. All the adults were either yelling or crying and I just tried to concentrate on my little cars — making them go in circles.
Suddenly, two big arms scooped me up and I was on Uncle Larry’s shoulder going out the back door. He said we were going to get ice cream. I know I beamed because I loved ice cream as much then as I do now. We got in his car — this Corvette was blue — and he sat me on his lap in the driver’s seat. He let me “drive” all the way to The Community Snack Bar where he got us both a big Styrofoam cup of soft serve vanilla with Hershey’s syrup on top. We ate slowly and he let me “drive” back to Granny and Papa’s house. It was quiet when we got back. I realized once I was old enough to process it how Uncle Larry had wanted to shield me from all the anger in the house and he did it the only way he knew how, with a car and ice cream.
Now he’s gone and it is a tremendous loss.
Don’t misunderstand me, Uncle Larry was great and I loved him dearly, but he had his flaws and his demons as we all do. I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t dwell on any of them here. As it is, they don’t really matter anymore. All that matters is he was beyond a doubt one of the people I loved most on this rock and he’s also one of those people I never really imagined ever not being around, until he was gone.
I will miss him and mourn his loss for a long, long time.
Love y’all, and keep those feet clean.