Legacy Blog #18: Uncle Jeffrey

My Beloved Daughter,

One usually thinks of an uncle as an adult who is in a position of respect over the niece or nephew.

Yeah, that’s not how it happened with me.

You see, your Uncle Kenny married his first wife, Debbie, when I was around six.  They had their first daughter when I was ten.  Of the three of them on my side of the family, I only remember Sarah’s actual date of birth, October 6, 19885.  I was so excited to be an uncle, I bragged about her to everyone who would listen.  And, when she was a baby, we got along great.

Then she started walking.

I’d be hanging out in my bedroom with my friends and she’d come in and bug us.  I’d be watching T.V. with your Grandpa Chuck and she’d walk up to the television and turn down the volume or shut it off.  If Grandpa Chuck picked her up and moved her away from the television, she’d prove that she was your Uncle Kenny’s daughter by using, at the ripe old age of two, a bad word for a female dog.

Then your Uncle Greg had a daughter.  Jaimilee wasn’t raised around me, so I didn’t really get to know her until I was a senior in High School.  Prior to that, she was the adorable, freckle-faced, strawberry blonde who saw me infrequently and didn’t really know me that well.  My earliest memory of her was when your Grandpa Chuck and I visited your Uncle Greg and his now ex-wife in Springfield.  I was a freshman in high school and I could already tell that Jaimilee was going to be super smart.  She caught everything that everybody said.  I remember her doing something that got her dad angry and he said, “I’m gonna whip your !

She frowned and begged, “Please don’t whoop my .”

Kody was the third to be born.  He was Sarah’s little brother and “Kenny Jr.” in every way.  Sarah said the “B” word as a child and Jaimilee fearfully repeated the word that her dad had just used but Kody practically came out of the womb sounding like the proverbial truck driver.  I wouldn’t be surprised if his first word were a swear word.  He was also a slugger.  He’d trade punches with his big sister and, eventually, other kids at school.

Over the years, as they grew, their personalities also grew.  Sarah and Kody, since my parents watched them while your Uncle Kenny and his ex went out to party every weekend, were really more like little siblings to me.  I got so frustrated with them and was so happy when I finally had a bedroom with a door and a lock.  Jaimie was more like my little buddy.  I even babysat her when she was little.  On Saturday mornings, I’d go to her parents’ house and watch the mid-90s Spider-man cartoon.  She listened and rarely argued with me.  She liked school and liked to study.  Sarah and Kody showed their love to me by tormenting me.  I didn’t see it that way at the time, but I look back on that fondly now.

Sarah and Jaimie grew into beautiful young ladies.  Jaimie graduated from high school, married C.A. Counts and settled in as a pretty awesome housewife/photographer.  When Kody and his girlfriend had their daughter, Hannah, Jaimie fell in love with her and would spoil her every time she was around her.  Due to troubles with the law, Kody and his girlfriend couldn’t take care of Hannah.  Your Grandma Pat and Uncle Greg took turns raising her.  Finally, Jaimie and C.A. adopted her and have given her a loving home and have raised quite the Southern Belle.

Your oldest of two male cousins, Kody, has done the best that he could do.  He’s had his issues but he’s doing what he can do to get back on his feet, as of now.  Hannah’s biological mother died too young.  I’m not really sure how that affected Kody.

The sad ending truly comes from your oldest cousin.  Over her short life, Sarah grew up quickly.  She dropped out of high school, got into drugs and started smoking.  She moved to Florida as a teenager, living with her boyfriend and some other roommates.  Before she was nineteen-years-old, she awoke next to that boyfriend to find that he had died in his sleep . . . an allergic reaction to a medicine that was supposed to help him overcome a heroin addiction.

She met another boy, Cody Blackburn.  The most respectful boy that I ever saw her date, he adored her and did anything your Grandma Pat asked of him.  Sarah, quite honestly, treated him like dirt, from what I remember.  But their love sired a child.

A few months into the pregnancy, Cody left Missouri to work with his father in Utah.  He would send her money but she really did miss him.  Finally, she decided to go out to live with him in Salt Lake City.  So she bought a one-way ticket on Southwest Airlines from St. Louis.

I remember that day well.  You and I got up super early and drove from Springfield to Poplar Bluff, where we picked her up.  It was so different to see her pudgy belly with the baby in it, as Sarah was NEVER overweight.  She drove my car to the airport in St. Louis, you and me enjoying her company and me realizing just how much she’d grown since those days when she would intrude into my D&D games and interrupt our television time.

You and I each hugged her when we dropped her off at the airport, then headed back to Springfield.  She called me to let me know that the plane had made it to Salt Lake City.

Cadrian, your second-cousin, was born in November of 2008 (I think).  For a month, Sarah was the best mother that she could be.  Cody said that she adored their baby.  The day after your GG died, (December 3, 2008), Sarah called me, overwhelmed by the fact that she wouldn’t be able to go to her funeral, as she (like ALL children) adored your GG.

A week to the day after GG died, Cody Blackburn came home from work for lunch to find Sarah unresponsive.  She had rolled over on the baby, but he pushed her off and saved Cadrian.  Sarah had died within minutes of his arrival home.  A week of autopsies went by, with no real explanation for your twenty-three-year-old cousin’s death.  Cody’s father told me, over the phone, that he figured that she had died of a drug overdose.  Thankfully, the autopsy redeemed her.  The only drugs in her system were prescription drugs in the proper dosages.  We never truly figured out what happened.

Cody married a girl and moved with Cadrian to Tennessee, where he and his wife got all of their kids taken from them due to drugs.  They were given to the girl’s family, even though Cadrian had family in Missouri.  As of this writing, I’ve never met my eldest niece’s daughter.  That family did allow your Uncle Kenny and Grandma Pat to meet Cadrian, something of which I am happy.  Your Grandma Pat wanted me to take some time to drive her back to Tennessee again but she passed away before I could.  Cadrian is eight-years-old now and doesn’t know her family.

Had I known then what I know now, I would have hugged a little more tightly that day at Lambert Airport.  I truly miss Sarah.  I miss arguing with her and I miss telling her about Jesus.  She and I were baptized on the same day in the same creek in Ellsinore, MO.  Brother Tanner, the pastor who preached Grandma Pat’s funeral, baptized us.  I pray that it truly was an outward depiction of an inner faith within her.  I hope, when I finally leave this world, to hug her again.

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Legacy Blog #17: Other Fandoms

My Beloved Daughter,

Transformers and Spiderman weren’t the only fandoms in which I got involved in Campbell.  To a lesser extent, I got involved in a few others.  While Transformers were my absolute favorite contemporary toy, I also enjoyed G.I. Joe, He-Man, and Thundercats.

The first G.I. Joe figures that I got were Lifeline and Serpentor, during the third year of the 3.23 inch figure releases.  As time went on, I also got Snake-Eyes (my favorite), Quick Kick, Cross Country (who came with the vehicle known as the H.A.V.O.C.), Jinx, and two versions of Sgt. Slaughter, one of which came with a vehicle (the name of which eludes me) and one of which was a mail order special.  Although I never got as many of them as I had of the Transformers, I’d say they came in a fairly distant second.  I know that I loved playing with the figures while hanging out with other friends who had them.  And, as they said in every episode of the series, “Knowing is half the battle.”

He-Man was originally my cousin, Leon’s, favorite toy.  When I started collecting them, I went for toys that he didn’t have.  Instead of getting the original He-Man, at first, I got “Battle Armor” He-Man, “Thunder-Punch” He-Man (with a backpack that had caps in it that would pop when you made him punch something), and “Flying Fists” He-Man.  I concentrated on getting the second villain team and got all five of the original Horde figures.  I even got the Horde Slime Pit and the Fright Zone.  If I still had them, in good shape, they’d be worth a pretty penny.

The Thundercats were a series that you might recognize.  They had a rebirth not too long ago on Cartoon Network.  But that cartoon changed the whole story.  In the original, the Thundercats’ home world was destroyed and several of them escaped to Earth of the far future, followed by their enemies, the Mutants.  Something happened to the child prince’s stasis pod and he aged during the trip to adulthood.  The prince, Lion-O, had the sword of Omen, which would allow him to see other places (“Sight Beyond Sight).  I owned Lion-O, Panthro (who had an awesome pair of nunchaku), and Cheetara.  I never got Tigra and lost interest before the second wave of toys came out.

I picked up a few toys from other collections, like the Silverhawks and the original series of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  But none of them, or the above, ever came close to matching the sheer number of Transformers that I had.

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Legacy Blog #16: The Transformers

My Beloved Daughter,

My next fandom came about in 1984.  A commercial, showing toy cars and guns that turned into robots and fought each other, came on during my morning cartoon watching.  The children yelling, “It’s the Autobot Commander!  Call in the Decepticon Leader!” burned itself into my memory.

But what really got my attention was the cartoon.  Coming from Cybertron, an empty husk of a metal planet, whose energy reserves were depleted by a war of millions of years, the Transformers were a race of robots who could change their forms.  The peace-loving Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, left their world to search for more energy.  The evil Decepticons, led by the megalomaniacal Megatron, followed them and attacked them, boarding their ship and causing it to crash on Earth four million years ago.  The ship came to rest in the side of a volcano in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S..  In the 1980s, the volcano erupted; causing the ship’s computer to activate and it reactivated the robots.  Since the crash (according to the comic book by Marvel) wiped the computer’s memory of the war, it activated both the good guys and bad guys and they continued their war on Earth.  Unlike Cybertron, our world is a living planet with many natural resources.  In the cartoon, the Nations gave the Autobots the energy they needed to survive, as the Autobots defended the Earth from the Decepticons.  The cartoon went on for three full seasons and had a single, week-long miniseries for the fourth season.  I’m told that the series continued in Japan but not in the U.S..

In the comics, the Autobots were mistrusted by the humans.  The first series existed in the Marvel Universe.  Spiderman even guest-starred in the third issue.  Seeing him web Megatron in the face was priceless and was the most memorable point in the comic for me.

The first Transformer toy that I bought was Jazz, a sort of rocker Autobot who was the second-in-command of the Autobots.  He was so complex in his transformation that I never figured out how to get him to turn into a robot.  I took him back and got Sideswipe.  I also got Bumblebee, who was one of the minicars.  The normal-sized cars were about nine dollars back then.  The minicars were about three.  Before the original series ended, around my freshman year of high school, I had over a hundred Transformers toys . . . ranging from all of the Aerialbots to Omega Supreme.  I never took very good care of them, so mine weren’t worth anything when I grew up.

The original television series spawned an animated movie in 1986.  The commander of the Autobots died in it.  This led to a major backlash from fans and he was brought back at the end of the third season.  Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, there were only five more episodes after that, ending the original series.

The second series started when I was a senior in high school.  Releasing mostly repaints of the original characters, it was refreshing to see them in Wal-Mart.  I replaced Sideswipe and Optimus Prime, both of which I had broken playing roughly as a child.  I still have these two in our basement.

I’ve followed this fandom over the course of my life.  The Thirtieth Anniversary Edition of the 1986 movie (vastly superior to the live action, Michael Bay movies) was released this year.  As of this writing, they continue to make new versions of the Transformers, so that new generations of children can join the battle of the heroic Autobots versus the evil Decepticons in “A World Transformed . . ..”

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Interview by Peter Younghusband

Peter Younghusband has posted an interview of yours truly over at his Christian Fiction Review blog.  Check it out here.

Be sue to read his other interviews and reviews.  He’s a faithful brother in Christ who loves good books!

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Legacy Blog #15: The Library and Spider-man

My Beloved Daughter,

On to my next “fandom.”

While I met friends in Campbell, I didn’t visit them outside of school much at first.  On the weekends, after Saturday morning cartoons.  Grandma Pat took me to the library in town, which was slightly larger than the one in Van Buren.  Pouring over the books there, I came across four books about Marvel super heroes.  There was one about the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, The Fantastic Four, and Spider-man.

Each of the books contained biographies of the heroes, along with reprints of two comics, including the comic where the hero was introduced and another random comic.  I read all of them, but Spidey really resonated with me.  A geeky science whiz who couldn’t get the girl who was suddenly given great powers and had to decide what to do with them.  The reprint of Amazing Fantasy 15, his origin story, was pretty cool.  The book also contained diagrams of his equipment, like his belt—where he carried his web fluid and he had a nifty light with his mask on it—and his web shooters.  I practically memorized that book.

The first Spider-man comic that I bought was an issue of Marvel Team-up where he worked with the Black Widow.  It was the comic where he got sucked into the ship that took him to the Beyonder’s world where the original Secret Wars took place.  This is where a god-like being forced some of the biggest heroes of the Marvel Universe, led by Captain America, to fight an army of some of the biggest villains, led by Doctor Doom.  The series was twelve issues and two of the highlights (for me) was seeing Spider-man trounce all of the Avengers in issue three and get his black suit (which would turn out to be an alien being that went on to be part of the villain, Venom) in issue eight.

More than comics, I’d watch his cartoons and get shirts with him on them.  Action figures (which I never kept in good shape) also filled my toy box.  I had posters and trading cards.  I was a huge fan.

Over the years, Spider-man broke up with his girlfriend, the Black Cat, and married Mary Jane Watson.  This showed me that he a geeky person can overcome his geekiness and marry a super model.

By the time I was in high school, I’d started visiting the Fantasy Shop, in St. Charles, every time I would go there.  I started putting my Spider-man comics in bags with boards to keep them in good shape.  I had several hundred comics at one points and, like an idiot, sold the collection for a pittance.

When you collect things tied to your fandoms, be sure to keep them in pristine condition.  You can give them to your kids as a legacy.

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My Thoughts on the 2016 Election

It’s over.

As the election loomed, my wife simply said she looked forward to the campaign ads ending.  Admittedly, the negativity of those ads became irritating.  I, on the other hand, prepared for the worse.  I prepared for the election of Hillary Clinton, resolved to the belief that she would nominate an abortion-supporting, legislating from the bench Supreme Court justice and fundamentally change our country into something that it was never meant to be, at least as far as our founding fathers were concerned.  I would have gotten up this morning, forgiven those who voted for her and moved on with my life, doing the best I could do with what God has given me.

That’s not what happened.  Donald Trump has won.  We will, if he keeps his word, get a Supreme Court justice who adheres to the Constitution.

But the angry hatred hasn’t ended.  The Clinton-loving media would have us think that Trump’s supporters were violent, bigoted and hateful people.  That’s not what I saw.  I saw a group of hard-working men and women who simply wanted a chance to lift themselves up by their bootstraps and not have to worry about their jobs being taken by people coming here illegally and being physically attacked by those same people.  While I did see some people on Trump’s side say hateful things about Hillary’s supporters, I challenged my friends and readers to call me out if I attacked her supporters.  I said things about Hillary, but not those who would vote for her.  I know some very intelligent people who voted for her and won’t challenge them on that.

On the other hand, I have been attacked by those same liberal friends.  A dear friend that I’ve known for twenty years, who is suffering from cancer and fearing that Trump will remove the pre-existing condition clause from Obamacare, told me that she would tell her grandchildren that I supported the candidate who wanted to kill her.  Another man that I’ve known since I worked at Chase—a refined, polite man whose father was an ambassador from an African country to Great Britain—basically told me that he hoped that my daughter gets sexually assaulted.  My family is pretty evenly split along party lines and a younger cousin, who is really more of a little sister, said that she wanted to unfriend all people who voted for Trump, not just on Facebook but in life.  She bit my head off when I reached out to her to tell her that I loved her.

The violence from those who supported Hillary, I fear, will continue.  Lord, I pray that I’m wrong.  I pray that, after Trump’s winning speech, which was very kind, we can come together as a country and move on, truly making America “Great Again.”

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Legacy Blog #14: Job Change and the Move to Campbell, MO

My Beloved Daughter,

The job at the sawmill didn’t last long for your Grandpa Chuck.  The mill kept opening and shutting down, which wasn’t good for a man who was supporting a wife and three children.  So, after talking with his brothers—who worked for a company that pushed ammonia barges along the Mississippi River—he took a job with them.  I was five when he went on his first trip.  I remember us taking him to drop him off.  Grandma Pat was crying and I didn’t really understand why.  But he was gone for a month.  Then he was home for a month.  Then he was gone for a month.  And so on . . ..

I remember that we had to take him, usually, to catch the boat in Memphis, Tennessee.  It was a four-hour drive from Van Buren, so we’d usually drive to Kennett, which was about half way, and stay the night with your GG there.  Then we’d go on down to Memphis and drop him off.  Then we’d go back to Kennett and stay another night with GG.  Then, we’d head home.  This resulted in a lot of missed school for me, as we’d repeat the process every month to either drop him off or pick him up.

So, in January of 1984, we found a house in Campbell, MO, and moved there.  It was about a half an hour drive from Kennett.  I didn’t have to miss three days of school every month and we lived closer to GG.  Grandpa Chuck had relatives in Kennett, too.  Your Aunt Ruth and her husband moved to Campbell after us and your Grandpa Chuck’s brother, Jerry, did, too.  Finally, your Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Ronald moved there with Leon and Leah.

It didn’t take long for the town of Campbell, MO, to become home.

It was a bit larger than Van Buren.  When I was in elementary school, Van Buren had about 800 people.  Campbell had 2000.  It was still a small town, though.  We had, when I moved there, two grocery stores, two restaurants and one video store that was inside of a gas station.  Not that the latter mattered, since we didn’t really get our first VCR until I was in the sixth grade.  By then, we had another, newer grocery store that rented movies.

On the other hand, we lived inside of the city limits, so we were able to get cable television.  I would come home from school and watch cartoons for a couple of hours.  I didn’t play outside much anymore.  And I gained a lot of weight.

I don’t really blame all of me not playing outside on the cartoons.  My first teacher in Campbell, Mrs. H, really liked to pile on the homework.  After the cartoons ended, at 5 PM, I began working on it.  I took a break for supper and usually finished it just in time for bed.  This was a daily occurrence, making each evening a chore.  I hated it and grew to hate going to school.  Recently, sociologists have said that more than an hour of homework per night is counter-productive.  I wish they’d have learned that in 1983.

To top it off, if you didn’t get your homework done, you got a mark.  Three marks and you got a paddling.  I can still remember her taking the offending student into the hall and jumping in my seat every time we heard the WHACK!!!  They made sure that we all heard it, so that we were deterred from making the same errors.

When I finished the third grade, I was thrilled to be out of her class.  Then she moved up and I got her again for the fourth grade.  The next year was better, although she still had some questionable practices.  One child, Scotty, acted up in class one day.  Now, we would say that he had ADHD.  Then, Mrs. H decided to punish him by telling us to pretend that he didn’t exist.  We jumped into this with gusto.  By the end of the day, he had been reduced to a blubbering mess by the lack of interaction.

To this day, I feel guilty about my part in it.  And I am glad that Mrs. H has long since retired and can’t do this to children anymore.

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