On my mother’s side of the family I had three uncles, and the one I found most interesting was called, “Uncle Lon.” He didn’t live his life in an orderly fashion like the rest of the family; I guess he might be described as a wanderer. I’ve heard my father say more than once, “Lon would start to California in a run down car with four flat tires.” This was close to true.
One of his close friends was a truck driver, and many times they took trips together. On one occasion, Lon decided to go with Charlie to New York City. Unlike most people, Lon didn’t choose to clean up and dress up for the trip. Instead, about half-way there, while traveling on the expressway, Lon said, “Charlie, stop this truck!” Reluctantly, Charlie pulled to the side of the road and watched as Lon got out and began walking down a side road. Charlie wondered where he was going, but soon found out. He spotted a store up ahead with a sign saying, “Salvation Army.” Charlie waited, and before long Lon came back a changed man. He was dressed in white from head to toe and bore a close resemblance to Colonel Sanders.
I was busy with my own life much of the time, and I would only get bits and pieces about Lon from friends and family. While working on my first summer job, Lon pulled up one day out of the blue and said, “Hop in Pete, and I’ll take you home!” I was a bit reluctant since I’d heard about his bouts with drinking from time to time, but he seemed in good shape so I crawled in and rode with him.
In his long, gray car with bad shocks and loud muffler, we bounced down the road to my cousin’s house, where I was staying for the summer.
From time to time, I’d hear that Lon had a different job. On one occasion I was amazed to hear he was selling Bibles. The news came back to me that he knew his scripture as well or better than any preacher and could quote just as well. At other times, I would catch a glimpse of him hauling a load of watermelons on an old sagging truck. I’ve also heard he was an expert on fixing TV’s. Whatever he did, he seemed to be able to make enough to survive.
One day while visiting California with his friend Charlie, he ran out of money. He spotted a restaurant and asked Charlie to pull over. As Lon climbed out of the truck, he said, “I’ll be back in a minute, Charlie!” In a few minutes, he came back out to the vehicle with this news, “Come on in, we now have a job.” He had persuaded the owner to give them food in exchange for odd jobs, until they could see further.
Lon was a man that didn’t let anything ruffle him. I don’t ever remember seeing him upset in his entire life. He was a short, broad shouldered man with a twinkle in his blue eyes that could charm women easily. He had a certain look about him that made you curious about him. As far as I can remember, he was only married a short time to a lady who looked to be a full-blooded Indian. Their union did not last long. My grandmother summed it this way, “Lon thought he was getting a rich woman, and his wife thought she was getting someone to take care of her. And they both got a fooling!”
Along with his charm, Lon had a good sense of humor, and this combination worked well for him. On one of his travels, Lon got acquainted with a rich, widow lady who lived in a nice, rambling mansion. Charlie and Lon were doing odd jobs for her, and Charlie began noticing that the lady seemed to be getting sweet on Lon. One day, Charlie broached the subject with him in a joking manner. “Lon, I believe you wouldn’t have a bit of trouble moving in here, and you’d be set for life.” In a slow easy manner, Lon walked over to the piano in the lady’s living room, sat down and began playing to Charlie’s surprise, before answering, “Charlie, Charlie, her grief is still too deep!” Charlie still laughs about that comment.
On one occasion, the word got back to me about an unscrupulous act on his part. While on his travels, it seems he was running low on money again and fell on a real plan. He looked for a person who had a fine looking dog and found one, a poodle. Somehow, he managed to steal the dog but not for long, only long enough to see an ad in the paper the next day offering a reward. Then, he returned it and collected the money.
Oftentimes, no one knew for months where Lon was, not even his mother. For some reason, my mother sent him a letter one day, and it came back with these letters written across it, “Deceased.” As long as I live, I will never forget the sad look in my grandmother’s eyes, when she found out the details. The doctor stated Lon went into an emergency room hemorrhaging due to alcoholism and upon improving in a few days left on his own. A short time later, he was brought back in but evidently did not have any identification on him. Since there was no way to alert the family, he was cremated by the state of California.
I have thought about his death more than once. I have wondered if he didn’t remove his billfold before going into the hospital the last time. You see, Lon was not afraid to be alone, or to live life on his own terms. Who knows, maybe he didn’t want to be a burden to his family, especially his mother who was getting up in age. Being a free spirit, I really can’t picture an ordinary funeral for him either, even though it would have been nice for the family. In my mind I can see him making his own decisions until the end. He would have wanted it that way.
Whether it is genetics or frustration on my part, there have been times I have had the urge to pack my belongings into my car and head out just like my uncle Lon. However, my responsibilities always stopped me before I got very far. You know I never got a chance to tell my Uncle Lon the things that he taught me. With his courage, he taught me I have a choice as to how I live my life. I also learned from his mistakes. I can be grateful for both lessons.