I’d like to invite everyone to celebrate the birthday of a great man with me today. My Uncle Larry turns 60!
Uncle Larry is my favorite uncle and I’d say that even if he were not technically my only uncle. In a life that’s had more change than I would like, Uncle Larry has been a North Star; a guiding constant and a reminder that some things and some people really can be counted on in this life.
Uncle Larry is my Aunt Cathy’s husband. He married in to the family 33 years ago and the fact that he’s been able to put up with Aunt Cathy all these years and still maintain his sanity is a credit to his fortitude. (My aunt reads this blog and I dearly love poking at her! She’s precious to me as well.) When I say he’s been a constant, I have difficulty remembering a time when he wasn’t around. He and Cathy started dating in my earliest hazy memories. What I do remember is Uncle Larry was literally larger than life to me.
Most of the guys in my family run around 5’10” or so. Nick, my little brother, topped that, but before him, Uncle Larry was the only 6’2″ person I knew. To me, he was also Hercules strong. One of his favorite things to do when he came to see Aunt Cathy was to pick me up over his head. I was a chunky little monkey so the fact he could scoop me up and touch me to the ceiling was awesome in itself. I remember going to the SC Upper State Fair every September with Uncle Larry and Aunt Cathy and Uncle Larry’s niece, Gina — who, incidentally, was the first girl I ever walked down the aisle! I loved being with Uncle Larry and if Aunt Cathy didn’t object, he was pretty much willing to take me anywhere.
Uncle Larry has always had a need for speed and for him, speed has always meant one word — Corvette. Before he and Cathy married, he would buy a new Corvette every two years. The first one I remember he had was a limited edition 1968 Mako Shark II with a 427 big block in Midnight Blue. That was a seriously awesome car.
Knowing how much Uncle Larry loves Corvettes, I offer this as proof of how much more he loves my Aunt Cathy. Most of his Corvettes were special orders from Keith Whitaker Chevrolet in Greenville. He had a car on order when he asked Aunt Cathy to marry him. When she accepted, he canceled the order. That was late in 1977 and the car on order was a Silver Anniversary Edition 1978 Limited Edition Corvette. That car is worth just south of $1 million dollars today. For years — even today — if Cathy and Larry had a spat or a little dust-up, my daddy — Cathy’s brother — would remind Larry, “I told you to keep the car.”
Uncle Larry hasn’t been just a good time charlie all these years either. One of my clearest memories involving him was on Aunt Cathy’s birthday when I was about 5, I think. Mama and Daddy’s troubles had begun escalating and things came to a head at Granny and Papa Wham’s the night we celebrated Cathy’s birthday. We’d eaten and I was playing with my Legos in the living room when Daddy and Papa got into a heated — and loud — argument. When I walked in to see what was going on, Uncle Larry knelt down and asked me if I would like to “drive” his car to the Snack Bar for an ice cream. Does a one-legged duck swim in a circle? Of COURSE! So he sat me on his lap and I drove — with a little help — to the edge of town and we ate ice cream and “drove” back.
When we got back, Daddy was gone and Mama was red-eyed. It was a few years down the road before I realized Uncle Larry — who had been through similar circumstances — was trying to preserve my innocence for just a little longer.
Of course, when it comes to driving for real, I never would have gotten my license if Uncle Larry hadn’t taught me how to drive a car. I didn’t see Daddy enough at the time and Mama was terrified of the thought of me driving, so Uncle Larry shouldered the load. Of course, learning to drive in a ’78 Camaro with a Corvette engine and transmission was a little tricky in places. I didn’t quite understand the concept of “ease on the gas” as much as I should so I left a few black marks around town in my early attempts. I remember being 14 with no sign of a permit, much less a license, driving down I-385 with Uncle Larry. We passed a highway patrol car and I asked Uncle Larry what to do if the cop turned around. He smiled and said, “Put your foot on the floor!”
Uncle Larry couldn’t afford a ticket because he was a truck driver. He went to work on the dock at the Roadway terminal in Greenville when he was 18. He started driving a few years later and now at 60, he’s the #1 tenured driver in South Carolina. When I was little, I used to think every Roadway truck I saw was Uncle Larry. It took Mama and Cathy forever to get me to understand that Roadway had lots of trucks and Uncle Larry drove up north mostly.
The real measure of a man is how he treats others. I don’t know of a single person or animal my Uncle Larry has ever mistreated. He especially loved my Granny Wham. When Papa passed and Granny became unable to live alone, Uncle Larry told Cathy to sell their house and move to Fountain Inn to live with Granny so she wouldn’t have to leave her home of so many memories and years. By that time, he wasn’t going on long hauls anymore so every morning on his way home, he’d stop by the Hardees on the exit to Fountain Inn and get Granny Wham a biscuit for breakfast. Cathy said Granny would stand at the kitchen window waiting for him to arrive and he and Granny would eat breakfast together before Uncle Larry went to bed.
When Granny finally had to go to the nursing home because her medical needs were too great to tend at home, Larry would ride down to see her in Laurens just about every weekend. While Granny was in Martha Franks, the Greenville Roadway terminal closed and Larry was transferred to Columbia. Rather than move and upset things, he would drive 100 miles to Columbia from Fountain Inn three or four times a week to pick up his truck and run his route. Every time, either coming or going, he would stop in Laurens to check on Granny Wham. I’ve known a lot of men in my life. I’ve known my share of scoundrels and saintsalike. In all that time, I’ve been privileged to know few men of integrity to match my Uncle Larry and none — famous, infamous, or unknown — who would surpass him.
He is one of my childhood and adult heroes.
Happy Birthday, Uncle Larry! Love you!
And love to all of you as well! Keep your feet clean until next time.