I don’t have to tell you what a wonderful man he was. I also don’t have to tell you about his contagious laughter or his slightly embarrassed smile where he dipped his head and his cheeks turned a little bit pink. Yes, you know exactly the one I’m talking about.
But I do have to tell you about the kind of family guy he was to me, his niece.
My Uncle Ronnie. To you, Ron Taylor.
Picture this. It’s Christmas morning and I’m old enough to know what’s going on but still too selfish to truly appreciate all I have. My first thought after opening the massive amounts of gifts under the tree from my mom (before Uncle Ronnie arrived from Atlanta) is: I can’t wait to see what Uncle Ronnie got me! After opening the presents and having a long day, I would lie in bed every Christmas night for years and listen to his laughter as my family watched TV. I’d cover my head so I could go to sleep, but his laugh always penetrated the thickest of pillows. But he was my Santa Claus. Later on, he was my children’s Santa Claus. Our Spirit of Christmas.
Two years ago, he bought me my first Kindle, something I had put on my list as a joke because it was so expensive and I didn’t want to spend the money on myself. Lo and behold, under the tree, there was a Kindle just for me with Uncle Ronnie’s name printed in his lazy scrawl in the “From:” section. When I went through the roof because I was so excited yet appalled that he’d spent so much money, he gave me that embarrassed laugh and tried to shake off my gratitude.
That was the same Christmas I gave him a copy of my first published book, Doubting Thomas. I was so happy to give him something that I had written, complete with a dedication in two formats: one on the dedication page and one on the front cover. I took his last name as a pen name to represent the writers in our family. I could have been anyone I wanted to be, but I wanted to be a Taylor. I can still hear his words, “I think she might actually be something someday.” Of course, it was followed by his laughter and his “yeah!” as he flipped through the pages.
That year, I also gave him a scrapbook of pictures of us together, marking the fun memories I had of coming to the “big city.” Our family isn’t much on verbal or physical affection, but I told him what he meant to me in a letter on the final page. All he’d inspired me to do and make of myself. But more importantly, for being the glue that held our tiny family together. I didn’t have to see his reaction. He knew how much I loved him.
Fast forward to this past Christmas. Gifts weren’t necessary. We all agreed not to do anything for each other but rather save everything for the kids. He might have been a bit peeved at me for that, but I wanted him to understand that gifts weren’t important to me anymore. Being with him during the holidays was all I needed. It was overshadowed by the fact that he’d just been diagnosed with cancer, but we still made the most of it and he was the same old jolly St. Nick he always was at that time of year.
I can’t imagine the next Christmas without him. I can’t imagine passing through Atlanta without thinking I could take a quick exit and run by and say hi to him or meet up with him for lunch or dinner. I’d give anything to go back and do it all over again and take that pillow off my head as a young kid, stare at the ceiling, and listen to his laughter. Tell myself that one day soon his laugh would be silenced and all that would remain was a legacy that had touched so many. Enjoy every second of what you’ve been given, little girl. Not just the Christmas presents under the tree, not just the excitement of Christmas, but the magic of family that shapes and molds you into who you’ll be one day.
The amazing thing about all those Christmases isn’t the expensive toys that are now gathering dust, but the biggest and best gift he ever gave any of us: his laughter. If I close my eyes I can still hear it and suspect I always will.
Goodbye, Uncle Ronnie. Your name lives on in your son, Alex, your grandson, Cash… and with me.