I'm just going to keep pulling at your heart strings with the tearjerkers, so keep the Kleenex handy!
James Everette Stevens was my Granny's brother, and my great uncle. In truth, he was more like a grandparent. Uncle Ebb, as he was affectionately known, and my Aunt Theresa never had children, and they doted on (or rather Ebb doted and Theresa tolerated) my brother and I.
Every summer, we spent a week with Uncle Ebb. If Christmas morning, a trip to Disney World and your birthday were combined into one awesome event, you might be close to feeling the level of excitement that we felt when it was time for our visit to their little house on Charlie Street.
It wasn't just that he showered us with trips to Big Lots (our favorite store) and unlimited buttered toast at O'Delly's (our favorite restaurant), although we did love those things. It was more that Uncle Ebb treated Dillon and I like we were the two most important people on the planet, and to him, I guess we were.
Uncle Ebb died when I was eleven. My grandfather died when I was eight, and I remember that and feeling really sad. But Uncle Ebb stepped in and filled the role of grandparent so completely that when he passed away I felt the loss acutely.
I think about him every single day. I remember the way his voice sounded, unique because he had a voice box like the cowboy on those anti-smoking commercials and the little cotton bibs he wore to cover the small hole in his neck. I remember the way he folded his lanky frame to sit on the couch and the way the house smelled. Once, I saw a man in Greensboro who so much reminded me of him, his mannerisms and clothes, right down to his shiny black boots, that it felt like I'd been gut punched, so visceral was the memory.
I wish that I had been able to know him now that I am an adult. I'm living in Norfolk now, and he spent time here during his stint in the Navy. I inherited his dog tags, and carry them on my key chain. There are so many things here I know he would love - going to the USS Wisconsin so he could show me the kind of ship he was on, and seeing the boarding house that he and twelve other sailors shared while they were here.
I recently did some internet sleuthing, and found a picture of him from the USS Albany 1956 yearbook. He was in the back row of a group of sailors, looking young and handsome and happy. He loved the Navy, and I've been told he regretted getting out early. I think he'd be extra proud to know that I ended up with a Navy man myself, especially a man who reminds me of my Uncle Ebb's best qualities in so many ways, and not just because he also dotes on me (I can have all the delicious buttery toast I want); he's also good and kind and loves me unconditionally.
There are many great men (and women) who have shaped the person I am, but none so much as my Uncle Ebb, and I am grateful for the bond that we shared, because I wouldn't be the person I am today without it.