Thursday, November 17, 2011

Family Portraits #5: Uncle Harold

It's been a weird week - lots of travel, with many hours spent in the car. And intermittent problems with internet connections several times this week, too. So I am late with this post. And I completely missed posting on Sunday's service, something I will try to rectify very soon as we heard a magnificent sermon at our daughter's church, one that we've been pondering ever since. 

With this week's word portrait (500 words, lots of detail), I'm moving back to my mom's family after a couple of weeks with dad's siblings. One more uncle next week, then a few reflections on more distant relatives before circling round to each of my grandparents. I highly recommend this kind of written memory work - it helps to pull together some of the threads of your life and serves as a kind of living gratitude journal. Try it - I think you'll like it!

My mother with her kid brother, at Mom's 90th birthday party last June.

Fifteen months younger than Mom, my Uncle Harold - like all the Hobson children - was a beautiful baby. Now in his late 80’s, he is an adorable old man. In between, he was a heartthrob teenager, an emotionally wounded soldier, a man who dealt with some personal demons, and a devoted husband and dad. Like all of us, Harold’s personal history is a tale that is complicated and uneven. But in my life, as a little kid and through all the stages of adult life, he has been a steady, fun-loving, kind and affectionate presence.

During most of my growing up years, my grandparents owned and operated two nursery schools in the San Fernando Valley. They lived at one of them. I have clear memories of family gatherings there - with the play equipment in the yards and no furniture in the house. Instead there was a master bedroom, where my grandparents lived, and there were assorted cubby-shelves, small tables and chairs, toy baskets and napping cots spread throughout what would have been a living room, dining room, family room and additional bedrooms.

Both of my uncles worked for their parents, but one of them always felt like the low man on the totem pole. I am sure my grandparents tried to balance the complicated dual relationships that so often show up in a family owned business, but they were not terribly good at it. I spent a week or two assisting my grandmother during summer vacation from high school and I saw those hurt feelings erupt into bitter confrontation. At the time, I found that puzzling and troubling.

As I’ve gotten older, I have understood more about it - and I have been able to see my grandparents in a more realistic light. They did play favorites, they did keep secrets, they did undercut their middle son and it was not fair, it was not right. And I am sorry for the pain of those years and for the scars that were left, scars that lasted a long, long time.

But here is what I have learned from watching my Uncle Harold live his life: by the grace of God, we can choose to let go of the pain, we can choose to learn from it, grow through it, be transformed by it. Like my mother, Uncle Harold suffers from macular degeneration and is almost completely blind. He lost the love of his life to a rare form of cancer, he lost one son at a young age to the ravages of drugs and another to a long lifetime of sad choices. He lives alone (enjoying dinners out with a kind lady friend most days), he has two beautiful, courageous daughters whom he adores, and he is one of the sunniest, most cheerful people I know. He thanks God for his life, even for the hardest parts of it. And this small man with the twinkle in his eye, well… he literally radiates good cheer wherever he goes. For me, he epitomizes growing old gracefully and I am grateful.