Friday, May 3, 2013

The Risk of Waiting Too Long

Max & Edna (1940-something)
One of the many side-stories of my Preacher Kid writing journey involves my great uncle, Uncle Max. He was my grandma’s youngest sibling, born in 1919, when Esther was 11 years old. 

Like most of his siblings, Max Miller lived a long life. He stayed sharp as a tack right up until he died at the age of 87. Which is why I sought him out when I was trying to put the pieces of my grandma’s life together. He would still have the childhood memories, the stories of making do with what they had, the color on his parents, and the dirt on Esther.

It had been years since I had seen Uncle Max. I probably last saw him when I was in high school. He had lived with his wife, Edna, in Columbus and we used to love to drive down there and motor around on his pontoon boat that he docked at the bottom of the hill that led to their house on a lake. Max and Edna never had any children, but they loved children. It was always great fun to visit them and get a chance to laugh with Aunt Louise, who was part of the Columbus package.

So as my thoughts were swirling and forming in 2006, I wrote a letter to Uncle Max who had for many years lived in Lakeland, FL. In the letter, I suggested taking a trip to Lakeland, spending a few days with him, and capturing his memories as well as spending some precious time together.

Do you sometimes calculate a letter’s journey? I do it fairly often. And I knew that it would take 2 days to get from Boston
to Lakeland. Then I wanted to give him a few days to process the idea. Then I would give him a call.

The day before I planned to call Uncle Max, my mom called to tell me that Uncle Max had died earlier that day. He had had a long life. He died peacefully in his sleep, like the turning off of a switch. He had been a very small presence in my adult life but he was a link to my grandma that I had come so close to reconnecting. My husband jokingly blames me for Max’s death! But I’m grateful that perhaps Max opened my letter, felt love and appreciation from a distant source, pictured my sisters and I rolling and laughing down the hill in front of his house, thought about his long life and his family a bit, and smiled.

Many people’s reaction to reading Preacher Kid has been one of reinforcement that they should write the life story of a relative or other influential person in their life. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, “I should write a book about my [fill in the blank].” Well, my advice to you is “do it.” And do it now, before it is too late! The book about my grandma’s life would have been exponentially richer if I had written it while she was alive and helping me. It would have been more colorfully illuminated had her brother, Max, had a hand in it. I think I did alright with the great help from my mom and aunt. But I wish I had written it sooner.

Do you have someone you want to write about? What are you waiting for?

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