Two days before the calendar flipped to 2018 I stood among a standing-room only crowd in a tiny south Alabama Congregational Methodist church at the funerals of my husband’s uncle and cousin. On the 22nd of December, 94-year-old Uncle J, 93-year-old Aunt K, and their only living child, 75-year-old E were on their way to dinner near Mobile, Alabama. A woman in a pick-up truck had apparently already side-swiped another car before careening further down the wrong side of a four-lane highway. She hit our family members nearly head on before her truck burst into flames, killing her at the site of the accident. E, who was driving, tried to avoid the truck, but swerved just enough to take most of the impact on her side of the car.
Uncle J died at the scene. E was taken to the hospital where she underwent a couple of surgeries, but eventually died late on Christmas Eve from the trauma. Aunt K suffered a fractured sternum, broken ribs and other non-life threatening injuries. Her body should recover, but her heart is broken from the loss of her daughter and the man she had called ‘husband’ for over 75 years . Before I tap out another word, you need to know that these are three of the most precious Christian people I know.
As I stood in that church and listened to Uncle J’s nephew on the other side of his family offer the eulogy, I was touched by two things he said about Uncle J and E. As he reminisced, he told those of us in the church about Uncle J’s handshake. It was the handshake of a man who was a Southern gentleman. Firm enough to let you know he was serious about life and his handshake, yet not so firm that it hurt. Uncle J had developed dementia in his later years, yet his nephew shared that the handshake was still there, although it might not have been exactly like it once was. I have long been convinced that a handshake tells you a lot about a person.
While I do not recall ever shaking Uncle J’s hand, my memory of him over the 23 years that I have been part of the family is one of a true gentleman and gentle man who always had a twinkle in his eyes and a smile on his face. He was a retired civil servant who gave a lot of years of his life to his country. He lived in a brick home in the middle of cotton and peanut fields that he often farmed. The standing-room-only crowd was a beautiful testimony to the love that South Alabama community has for Uncle J, Aunt K, and Cousin E.
My memories of E are just as vivid and precious. She had a smile that would light up a room, and according to many in the church that day, E gave wonderful hugs. Her oldest daughter shared this fact with me in the hours after E met Jesus face-to-face. I can agree with them, having been the recipient of a few of E’s hugs. In fact, Uncle J’s nephew mentioned those hugs in his eulogy, which tells me that E was generous with her magnificent hugs.
If you know anything about me, you know that my jam, my heartbeat, is legacy…the legacy we leave each day for those who circle around our lives. Part of Uncle J’s legacy was his handshake that said he was a man of his word, a man of character and integrity. He was a faithful husband and a loving father, grandfather, and great grandfather. His handshake and life told you that he was a diligent worker and faithful Christian. Cousin E’s beautiful smile radiated the love and care of Jesus to all she met, and her hugs were God’s way of bringing comfort to many people, as well as a sense of being cared for by someone very special. Neither of these folks ever stood on a big stage, spoke to large crowd, or heard the call of fame or great fortune. Yet, they leave a legacy that will reverberate for generations.
All evidenced by a handshake or a hug.
I’d say handshakes and hugs are mighty fine pieces of a legacy, wouldn’t you?
My heart would be so appreciative if you would pray for Aunt K and for Cousin E’s three adult children and their families. I am so thankful that Jesus walks with them on this new journey.
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