My Uncle Jack passed away a couple of days ago, and he will be sorely missed.
I’ve written about my uncle before on this blog–he was a famous rodeo cowboy in his time, Elvis-handsome, and once won a contest for the best hard-luck story. This afforded him a trip to Dallas and much attention–especially from cowgirls. He rode at Madison Square Garden and on two different occasions, he won the privilege of kissing Miss America.
There are so many great stories about my uncle I couldn’t fit them all in here, but in his memory, I want to tell one or two. He was famous for collecting and driving old, rattle-trap cars, and in his later years, when the ranching business went sour, he took a job at the lumber yard in Northport, owned by a man named Bob Wilson. One winter day, when my dad (Jack’s younger brother) was supplementing the family income by driving a schoolbus, he came upon one of Jack’s old cars in a snowbank, abandoned. Footprints led back in the direction of the ranch, so Dad figured Jack had hiked on home, and didn’t worry overmuch. (The Laels are a tough crew.) A little farther down the road, here was a second heap, and more footprints headed back toward the ranch. (The Laels are persistent, too, though some would say ‘bull-headed’ would be a better description.) Dad chuckled and shook his head and went on. At last, he rounded a bend and found a third jalopy, broke down and going nowhere. This time, however, my uncle was there. Dad whooshed open the schoolbus door to offer a ride. Uncle Jack looked at him with that crooked cowboy grin and said, “You tell Bob Wilson I tried to get to work!” Each time a car had gone kaput, he’d gone back to the ranch for another one.
On another occasion, when I was five or six, the powers-that-be bussed all us kids to Colville, a bigger town than Northport, which isn’t saying much, so we could get our shots. I’m here to tell you, I hated shots, and I was having none of it. Once we got to the clinic in Colville, I made a break for it–and ran right into my Uncle Jack in the doorway. I still remember how safe I felt in his arms, all those years ago, and how he grinned and said, “It’ll be all right, Lindy.” He held me until the shot was over. I don’t remember the prick of that needle. I DO remember the comfort of my uncle’s presence, and the quiet strength in his words.
Jack was always horse-crazy, and as you know, another Uncle Jack passed on earlier this year, to join his brother, Raymond, who had gone before. Here’s how I figure it. When Jack Lael crossed over, Jack and Ray Wiley were surely waiting for him, on horseback, with a third horse saddled for him. I’ll bet they grinned their cowboy grins and said, “This outfit ain’t half bad to ride for.”
Godspeed, all of you.
And you’d better me waiting with a horse for me when I get there!