There are times when parents are absent. Tragic circumstances like death or instances when a parent’s neglect are cause for separation.
There are times when a parent is called away. A career, vocation or duty takes moms and dads away for a season. My dad served our country during the Vietnam War in harm’s way. Mom did what military wives do and lovingly tucked us beneath her wings assuring my father that all would be okay on the home front.
Dad’s assignment was a key B-52 bomber base located in Thailand. Mom, my siblings and I retreated to the country home my pawpaw built for retirement. The Jim Walter framed house was finished over years of weekends and vacations.
It was situated on land that was once farmed by my grandmother’s parents – nestled in a stand of loblolly pines along La. Hwy. 488. My mawmaw’s younger brother, Grant, lived across the road.
Uncle Grant, Aunt Dale and their seven children lived a simpler life. Although he worked all his life as a lineman for a power company from 8 to 5, his passion and their world revolved around his family’s old homeplace where he raised farm animals and grew crops.
Dad wasn’t gone long before I began to miss him. People joked that I was like his shadow. We didn’t play ball often and most times I did not choose our activity, but he always welcomed me by his side as he went about the tasks that kept his hands busy. “Come on Jimbo, I need to change the oil in the car.”
Dad was military for 21 years. For much of my siblings’ life, my family lived from military base to military base. Being the youngest of the four, this was my first time to have Dad away.
Uncle Grant was a kind man. His clear blue eyes sparkled and there was always a light-hearted chuckle beneath his breath. Seeing me alone playing in the yard one day, he called across the road and asked if I and my brother would like to go with him and his two sons to gather firewood he had recently cut in the woods on his property.
“Mom, Uncle Grant asked if Eddie and I could go with him to get firewood,” I burst through the screen door announcing. “Can we, Mom? Can we?”
With Mom’s blessing, we darted across the road and around their house in time to hear the pop and chug as Uncle Grant started his old, rusted John Deere tractor. My cousins Richard and Greg were already sitting at the rear of the rickety wood trailer. We climbed aboard and Uncle Grant announced between the engine’s chugs, “All right boys, here we go!”
This was the first of many times when Uncle Grant blurred the lines between his boys and Eddie and me. Later, there were invitations to be there when he broke the rows of dirt in his garden revealing large sweet potatos; to join his children to make Aunt Dale’s homemade popcorn balls; and to eat ice cold watermelon on hot Saturday afternoons under the big live oak tree in their backyard. Uncle Grant made a big difference in my young life.
Despite the circumstances, when parents are away, there are opportunities for others to step up and fill the void. Children need loving adults in their lives. While Dad was away from me and my siblings, it was Uncle Grant. For the hundreds of children in care at Baptist Children’s Homes, it is the loving houseparents and staff members. For children in North Carolina communities, it is the concerned neighbor, the school teacher committed to a child’s future success, or church and community volunteers who are tutors, mentors and coaches.
Look around. Be open. Sometimes the least of these only need a few hours to fill the void.
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