Jive Talker

The earliest memory I have of my Uncle Roger, I must have been around 5 years old. Grandma was babysitting me at her house. (I think Mom was at work.) But Grandma had to go somewhere and she couldn’t take me with her, so she called Uncle Roger to come pick me up. I never really spent much time around Uncle Roger, mainly just at holidays, so I was a little nervous having to go with him all by myself. But he was always kind and had a warm smile and an easy laugh, which reassured me. So when he got there, I made the climb up into his giant brown Chevy pickup. (Uncle Roger was a Chevy man, just like Grandpa.)

I remember I literally had to put my hands on the floorboard, about waist high, and throw a knee up to get in. And that was just the first step; I had to repeat the maneuver to make it up into the seat. I remember sitting there, my feet barely over the edge, on that plasticky tan bench seat, that kind of pre-vinyl, nowhere-near-leather they used to put in trucks to keep them cheap. (An added benefit Grandpa taught me once was that you could literally just rinse out the cab with a hose, so long as you kept it on low and you were careful not to spray any of the electronics or let the foam under the seats get wet.) Not only did I not ride in a car seat—they hadn’t been invented yet—but nobody even wore seatbelts back then. Like Jeff Foxworthy says, “That was in the days when the kids weren’t too good to go through the windshield with the rest of the family.”

Uncle Roger’s truck smelled like work: cigarette smoke, concrete dust, and Hai Karate. I don’t remember what was playing on the radio when we first left Grandma’s, but I vividly remember the Bee Gees’ magnificent “Jive Talkin’” came on, because when it did, Uncle Roger turned it up and sang along—falsetto and all. It was early summer, not too hot yet, a beautiful day to just drive with the windows down and sing along with the radio. I remember thinking he was being unintentionally funny.

Uncle Roger was a tower of a man, well over six feet tall, with big, cool glasses and a full head of hair, thick and bushy, bordering on a white man’s ‘fro. Of course that sounds funny now, but he was very handsome, certainly considered so in that day. I’d place the year at close to 1975, the summer that song would have first been on the radio. I think it was before he and Aunt Chuckie were married, but I honestly don’t remember. Uncle Roger was thick, not fat, but muscly. He had gone to the Navy after high school, and traveling the world had agreed with him, finished the job of making him a man. By all accounts, he was a stand-up guy, a friend to everybody, a gentle soul.

It’s just a snapshot, of course. I don’t remember where we went that day or what we did, just him picking me up and singing in the truck.

After that, I lose him.

Uncle Roger died suddenly when I was twelve. He was 30. Grandma was worried about him because she hadn’t heard from him in a while, so she asked his best friend to go check on him. Turns out he was really sick, essentially trapped in his apartment because he was so weak. When Uncle Roger wouldn’t answer his door, his buddy kicked it in, found him unconscious in his bed, and rushed him to the hospital. He was there for weeks, and he seemed to be getting better…but it just wasn’t meant to be. He never left Intensive Care.

Because I wasn’t old enough to go into ICU, I didn’t even get to see him then. So I’m really thankful that I have that memory of him. Every time I hear Jive Talkin’, it brings my Uncle Roger back to me, and I’m five, and the windows are down, and he’s singing.

What’s your favorite memory of someone you loved but lost? Is it just a snapshot, or are you lucky enough to have a whole album? Please share your picture. I’d love to “see” it.

6 Responses to “Jive Talker”

  1. Dona Dickens November 15, 2010 at 6:50 pm #

    wow! i laughed/i cried. thanks for sharing that. he was SO special. i’m extremely glad you remember him. he was all that, before all that was all that.

    • Brannon November 16, 2010 at 1:14 am #

      True. The first time I wrote about him was in the eighth grade, for Mrs. Collier. She talked to me about it after she read it to make sure I was okay. Losing him profoundly altered the course of my life.

  2. kat soup November 15, 2010 at 8:37 pm #

    Funny. Sad. Brilliant.

    You’ve done it once again, young man.

    • Brannon November 16, 2010 at 1:14 am #

      Aw, shucks. I just let the Bee Gees do all the work. That was my secret.

  3. Debbie Golden Miller Sewell (whew!) November 16, 2010 at 11:43 pm #

    Thank you, Bro, for sharing that story. When I think of him he ALWAYS has a smile on his face. He was sooooo cool and good to all of us. I remember all his friends and how they have come around to visit Grandma Lila since we lost him. I remember going over to Gma’s when he was living there and was around more. I was always so happy to see him, a kindred spirit I suppose. I remember the polka dotted dress I wore to the funeral and how Gpa Chuck & Gma Lila could hardly bear to be there. I have never seen more people so impacted by a person’s passing. He meant so much to so many. We all loved him. So glad he accepted Jesus before he died. Now we will all get to see him again someday.

    • Brannon November 17, 2010 at 9:40 pm #

      He was the uncle I should have aspired to be.

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