Memories of Uncle J.

Last weekend, just after I posted my entry here, I began work on a new one for this week; one which I intended to be on a lighter note since the last few were more somber in tone. However, Abba had other plans. He called our Uncle Jelly, Uncle J. in Dear Mom and Dad, home at last. So, I think some words about the man who was our idol, mentor and the person George most aspired to be like, are in order here.
His name was Claude, but if you inquired after Claude McGowen in Deaf Smith County, in the Texas Panhandle you might get a blank stare. However if you asked if Jelly was known, the answer was usually, “You bet.” The origin of the nickname has a couple of versions, but the one most heard was that when he was a small fry he was a chubby little guy and always wore colorful bib overalls that tended to make him look like a jellybean, and that’s what he was called for a while before it was abbreviated to Jelly.
George’s efforts to be like Uncle Jelly were all consuming. Uncle Jelly had majored in animal husbandry and earned his 2nd Luetinants bars in college. The only thing George didn’t aspire to was to be a football player. So when George enrolled at Colorado State University his major was Animal Production and ROTC his elective.
Uncle Jelly could always be counted on to encourage and give good advice. Admittedly his advice was not always taken, but it was always listened to because it was never delivered in an “I told you so,” or “if you’re smart” tone. The only harsh words he ever spoke to his nephew were the result of Georgie not paying attention to what he was supposed to be doing. At the end of the scolding, which had his nephew totally petrified, Uncle Jelly added, “And wipe that smirk off your face!” Smirk? Whatever the expression was on the outside, it was definitely not a smirk on the inside.
Uncle Jelly was a man who loved his life’s chosen work passionately. I don’t believe he ever regretted for a moment the path he’d taken. Yes, there must have been moments of frustration, of course, but when you were with him you couldn’t help but sense his love for what he did. There was always at least one experimental plot of something which a seed company had asked him to take on, or a new chemical application to be tried. What a different world it would be if everyone could find such pleasure and purpose in their lives.
When I think of moments which are dear to my heart and soul, the most treasured are sounds and smells that came from that Texas Panhandle farm. Sounds of the night, like the banging of the metal lids on the self-feeders in the hog lots, the occasional squeal of a pig or two, the sound of the diesel engines of the semi-trucks on the distant highway or the mournful sound of train whistles 2 miles away, the rhythm sound of the streams of milk in the milk buckets coming from udders of the dairy cows which Uncle Jelly milked by hand; sounds that are as fresh in memory as if it was yesterday. The recalled smells of the milking barn, the barnyard itself, the pig lot, the separator shed where the milk was separated each morning and night, the hay in the barn, the odors from the kitchen and the fresh smell of each new day at sunrise; these too are treasured memories.
Several years ago when I was writing about my memories of that one special month, it occurred to me that I’d never specifically told Uncle Jelly how much he meant to me, so I wrote him a letter and mailed it. I didn’t hear from him for some time after that so I finally called him and asked if he’d received it. He had. I must confess I was a little hurt that he said no more than that, but I felt the important thing was that I’d said it in a meaningful way.
He’s gone from our world now, but these memories of what he contributed to my life, are alive and fixed. The thought that arises from these memories of what Uncle Jelly did for me is this: Have I contributed to anyone else’s life, anything to compare to what he contributed to mine? I certainly hope that I have, but to be honest, I don’t really know and worse, I fear that I may not have.

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