I have been blessed with a close, loving family. All of my life I have had the comfort in knowing that if I needed a hand I could call on a sibling, a cousin, a parent, or an aunt or uncle and they would reach back. Even with our family scattered over several states I know I would be helped if I had a need. Of course, there is lots of good natured teasing and jokes whenever we gather.
Recently we were gathered for several days in the Veterans’ Hospital in Albany, NY, at the bedside of my father’s brother, Uncle Leo D. Brown. His children, grandchildren and his beautiful great granddaughters arrived by car and plane. They surrounded him with love, brought him fresh, cold cider to sip and his favorite Ohio Buckeye blanket to comfort him. We nieces and nephews backed up our cousins in any way we could. Hands were held, hugs exchanged and sad smiles on all our faces. And there was laughter. Who was the favorite child? Who would bring him a beer? Where was that cigar?
The hospital staff, who could not have been more caring, soon realized they had to change his room. The veteran who was sharing with my uncle was over run by our family. Leo was moved to a room for four, and had it all to himself - and the rest of us. My cousins and my aunt took turns spending the nights. My uncle was never alone. We took turns holding his hand and cuddling his 3-month-old great granddaughter. At times he could talk to us and at times he could not. Emotions soared and crashed. When the veteran next door, his brief roommate, was discharged he came into the room to bid us goodbye and saluted my unconscious uncle. We cried. When my uncle rallied and someone asked him if he wanted ice chips he said, “Hell, yes.” And we laughed.
Those days were a clear demonstration of the strength and love of our family. My uncle has left us and there is a hole in the core of our family where that veteran, fisherman, camper, father, uncle once stood. But the family will not collapse. We will step closer and fill the hole. And the tall tales of his exploits will be passed down through the years.
|Leo Dwight Brown, surrounded (of course) by family|