Today my family on my dad’s side gathered in Tulsa, OK, to honor and celebrate my uncle. Dale Sheridan Aaron was another pillar in my life, a tall, kind hearted man, husband to my dad’s sister, Aunt June. They married before I was born and so I’ve known Uncle Dale all my life.
In spite of that long relationship, and hours and hours spent in his presence as a child, playing with my five Aaron cousins, I learned things about my uncle today that I did not know. I didn’t know that his hometown was Cassville, MO, and that his family had a feed store there. I didn’t realize he had three brothers AND three sisters. Or that he loved to fish for trout in Arkansas. I knew he served his country in the Navy but I learned today that he served as an aircraft mechanic.
What I did know about this dear man was that he loved his family. He and my aunt were married for 62 years and they earned the title of Lovebirds due to their obvious affection for each other. Dale loved his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. From them I heard words like hero, superman, wise, protector. My uncle was a quiet man, known to have a toothpick in his mouth most of the time, unless someone in his family was bullied or menaced…and then a lion-like fierceness emerged to subdue the threat.
I also remember my uncle as a hard working man, spending years in the insurance and newspaper industries. As I entered my teens, Dale opened fireworks stands just outside the city limits of Tulsa. I was so excited when he offered me and my younger sister Linda jobs helping out in the stands, selling a variety of fireworks. He never knew this, but I was so honored to be asked and I wanted to do an excellent job working for him. I set up a mock firework stand in my dad’s house and practiced waiting on customers and making change.
Linda and I spent several happy summers employed by Uncle Dale and working side by side with our cousins. What fun times those were, selling fireworks and having light-hearted and serious discussions with my cousins about life, about the opposite sex, about growing up. I had my first lessons in business, working for Uncle Dale, lessons that ignited an entrepreneurial spirit within me. I also had my first encounter with the law!
After long hot hours spent inside a wooden stand, open to the scorching July heat, my cousins, sister and I would run and play in the big open field nearby after dark. There was a huge billboard in that field and we created a crazy game. Some of us would climb up onto the billboard platform while those remaining on the ground threw lit bottle rockets at us. The idea was to dance and duck and dodge the rockets without being hit. On one of my turns on the ground a bottle rocket that I had just ignited got away from me and shot out into the busy street, exploding beneath a car. It wasn’t just any car. It was a police car. The officer immediately wheeled into the parking lot. My companions scattered and I stood, trembling, wondering what my dad would say when I got to make my one phone call from jail. Uncle Dale strolled out to meet the officer, toothpick in his mouth. I don’t remember what was said, other than I was warned by the officer to be more careful. As he drove away, I turned to face my uncle, wondering if I was going to be scolded or worse, fired. He chewed on his toothpick, looking at me with a twinkle in his eyes. His lips twitched into a smile, and without saying a word, he turned and walked back to the stands to close up for the day. I’ve never forgotten that night and how my uncle handled the situation and showed compassion and humor toward me.
After a beautiful service the family gathered at the cemetery for a military graveside ceremony. It was very soulful to watch the removal of the American flag that shielded the casket. We stood silently as Taps was played, the haunting tune synonymous with farewell, and as the flag was folded by two Navy Honor Guards. Tears ran down our cheeks as a young man knelt before my sweet aunt and presented her with the flag, his voice cracking with emotion as he expressed gratitude for my uncle’s service. We concluded our time together with a meal back at the church. It was a precious time of sharing stories and reconnecting, hugging and promising to stay in touch.
Aunt June and three of my cousins.
I thought about my uncle on the drive home. I love the connection we shared around the 4th of July and the firework stands. Ironically, my Aunt Annie, whose life we celebrated yesterday as we laid her to rest, was born on July 4th. Which led my mind to my garden. There is a flower called the Gomphrena Firework Plant. It’s showy blossoms resemble fireworks as the explode in the sky. I will plant those flowers in my garden, to remind me of Uncle Dale and those fun summers when he was my boss.
When fireworks light up the sky, they bloom, like flowers, opening in explosions of color…powerful, beautiful, fleeting…and then they are gone, leaving an after image that slowly fades away. Life is like that. We bloom, opening, growing, expanding outward, our brilliance lighting the way for others before we fade, leaving memories that linger for a time. Uncle Dale, your light was magnificent and beautiful. I’ll never see a display of fireworks without thinking of you. I am so grateful to have had you in my life. I love you….and I’ll see you later.