The last of my seven uncles passed this week.

I got to hold his hand and be there for him, for family and for myself. It meant the world to me to say good bye and to be held in the figurative arms of cousins as I watched his labored breaths. Now, he is at peace and each of us will learn to live without his enduring, endearing presence and unconditional love.

He and my mom were close in age. She a little older. They had a hard life growing up in the 1930s and 40s and relied upon each other. Undeniably, the kids worked as hard as the parents. They maintained the family garden, milked the cow, canned the fruits and vegetables, and sold what they could. My mom made extra money helping a local doctor’s wife with dinner parties and household chores. After those events, Mom promptly turned the money over to her mother to help. Her dad and mom divorced in the 40s I guess. He moved out of state. The oldest children each in turn moved out of Grandma’s house as soon as they could, and left the younger to carry the load. Our grandmother also spent large amounts of time in church and I heard an inordinate amount of tithing for a poor mother of eight.

Let’s jump ahead to the 50s.

My parents had two daughters and I joined them in 1955. In 1958, my dad and my two older sisters passed in a house fire.  All my aunts and uncles on my mother’s side of the family, my paternal grandmother Leola, my great uncles too all stepped up, loving and kind for my mom and me.

Subsequently, I always felt I had extended family there who cared. Fond memories were created through time with them. I remember Uncle Dan attending my elementary school’s father-daughter dinner with me when I was seven. All these family’s doors always open to me. As a troubled teen I lived with Uncle Dan’s family and sometimes Uncle Bill and family through my year of 9th grade. Over the decades we played baseball, they taught me to waterski on Big Lagoon in Humboldt County in California, to drive a dune buggy in the Oregon Dunes. We camped. We played cards at reunions.

The most important features that created my strong attachment to them was first my need for a father figure and second their unconditional love. They accepted me as I was. For example, that time Uncles Bill, Bob and Jack and I walked in the Oregon woods while at a family reunion. I excitedly told them I had just seen a troll leaning against a tree. They did not flinch. One of them suggested we just keep walking. They continued to talk about lumber, houseboats and I don’t remember what else.

Now, every one of them is gone- the six maternal uncles, 1 paternal and slew of great uncles. My life sweeter and richer because of them. My heart and mind at ease because they demonstrated love and acceptance. Aren’t those the two things a kid/a person needs most?