Earlier this fall we bid a sad and unexpected farewell to my wife’s 88 year old Nonc Earl Young. The loss was sad because he left suddenly. In spite of his advanced age, his vigor and vitality to the end appeared so strong that we assumed he would be kicking for years to come. Or at least kicking down here. Given his sturdy faith and secure hope in the Almighty, we well imagine that he’s kicking pretty high in some fragrant field or pasture across the River of Life!
I met him when I came into the family as an in-law almost 40 years ago, but like all of my wife’s aunts and uncles on the Young side, in-law was as good as blood as far as acceptance. And so he was ever-so friendly, warm, and affable all the years I knew him. In fact, he is easily one of the best-natured, easy-going, pleasant men I’ve known. And he displayed that good nature masterfully with an engaging, shrewd sense of humor that was both wry and dry. Enriching the effect of his humor, an enduring image that I’ll guard in my memory is that canaille gleam that sparkled in his eye when he would pronounce those prickly witticisms and dry, incisive observations.
Though well-educated and distinguished in a long career as an educator and school administrator, he was folksy, plain-spoken, and homespun. Nothing flashy. When he found out I was learning to speak his native Cajun French, he would converse with me in that musical tongue. He seemed sincerely proud of my effort as an americain to learn his family’s language.
In fact, I recall one memorable linguistic lesson from Nonc Earl sometime around 1976 or 77 when he was the principal at Chataignier High School and I was a student recruiter at Louisiana College. I made a recruiting call at the school, and while it was officially a business call, it was mainly social because I was getting to know my wife’s family–his niece and I were either engaged or just married. Anyway, we made small talk and he showed me around the school. Eventually, we made it to the cafeteria where the lunch room workers were cooking lunch: butter beans on rice. The butter beans were those particularly large beans–I can’t remember what we call them in English, but I can tell you what we call them in Cajun French, for as Nonc Earl explained, Ca c’est des fevres plattes. Yep, in translation, “those are flat beans.” The words rolled off his tongue like lyrics. To this day, I don’t see a dish of fevres plattes without thinking of Nonc Earl.
But there are truly better things to remember Nonc Earl for than a pot of butter beans and a wry sense of humor that made folks happy. On a solid base of character and unpretentious manhood, he stood for right things, beginning with God and including family, church, hard work, fields and woods, teaching and learning, and country (Oh, I should mention that he was a World War II D-Day veteran).
In this season of Christmas, the first season his family will miss his presence, no doubt tears will be shed. Tears should be shed, because grief is part of life, a natural response that the Creator instilled within us. But amid the tears, or after the tears, let’s also find joy and hope. Nonc Earl lived long and well. In the manner of his passing, consider all the dubious rites of elderly passage that he trumped: no need to turn over the key to his pickup truck because he could no longer drive, no dimentia, no crippling disability, no bones or organs laced with painful cancer, no need for skilled care or the nursing home. And how many more of old age’s debilitating effects could we add to that list? Yes, Nonc Earl was blessed in life, and now he’s blessed in eternity.
May we all be so blessed, and may his memory blaze warmth in our hearts as we cry a little this season but mostly laugh a lot. Why laugh? Because as believers like Nonc Earl, we invest our faith in the same assurance that captured his heart as a believer. May our own lives be as worthy, as well-lived, and as well-remembered as his when we reach the end of our journeys. Then we’ll meet him again for an eternal reunion in that fabled land of cloudless day.
Et puis en paradis, on va se rejoind’ Nonc Earl et mange un gros bowl des fevres plattes!” (And then in heaven, we’re going to meet Nonc Earl and eat a great big bowl of butterbeans!”)