I lost one of the champions in my life last week.
My uncle Dave died. He had a heart attack, and they hauled him to the hospital. The next day he was laughing and seemed to be doing OK. In fact, they sent his wife my aunt Trisha home. Then, they called her and said he didn’t make it.
Dave was one of the first adults I got to know when I was a kid.
In those days, many of our relatives came to our house to visit my grandmother, who lived with us. We knew it was her they were coming to see, but with Dave, it was different.
He had a way of making everyone he talked to feel special. No matter what else was going on, he managed to spend time with me. This usually involved joking around and playing games. He always talked to me; not down to me, the way some adults do when talking to children. Kids can always tell the difference.
We played a lot of board games together, and we often played cards.
When I was about 8 years old, he showed up one day with a great big trophy he had purchased. On the base plate, my name was engraved with the title “Champion Card Player.”
I was certainly no champion card player, but that was the way he made me feel, which was typical of the man.
I was the fourth of five children, and the house was always full of friends and our extended family. There were times while I was growing up when I felt like I sort of got lost in the crowd.
That never happened when Uncle Dave came to town. When he talked to me, he was talking just to me, and that was important. He always made it seem like seeing me was a treat to which he had been looking forward with eager anticipation.
His big smile and that wonderful laugh of his were contagious. He put the “fun” in the term, “funcle,” and that description suited him. It’s an expression that refers to an uncle who is especially fun to be around.
Dave and his family left Minnesota for Colorado, and we didn’t see them as much after that.
One year, my wife and I had the good fortune to be able to visit Dave and Trisha at their home in Arizona. It was one of the best trips I have ever taken. They were wonderful hosts, and took pleasure in showing us around Lake Havasu City. In return, we taught them a few things about craft beers when we visited some of the local brew pubs.
Dave and Trisha were quite a bit older than we were, but they were young in spirit, and we had a wonderful time hanging out with them.
Decades after we played games back in the old duplex in Duluth, Dave and Trisha were still showing us a good time and making us feel special.
I took up golf fairly late in life, and some of my favorite memories are of rounds I was lucky enough to play with Dave and my uncle Russ, who is also a prince among uncles. These guys were sometimes hard on themselves when we were playing, but they were nothing but generous and encouraging toward others. I couldn’t have asked for better golfing companions.
For many of us, the real champions are not professional athletes or actors. They are ordinary people who do not seek the spotlight for themselves. Instead, they lift up those around them, making them feel like the center of attention.
I have been luckier than most when it comes to uncles. I have some pretty good ones, and they have all played an important part in my life. Each of them, in his own way, has shared his knowledge and helped make me who I am today. That’s what uncles do.
Even among that elite group, however, Uncle Dave stood out for his warm sense of humor and contagious laugh. He made a quiet kid from Duluth feel important and helped me appreciate the value of family.
I still remember that goofy trophy he gave me all those years ago to commemorate the fun we had playing cards together. If I was going to buy a trophy for him, it would be a big one, and engraved on the front would be, “Uncle Dave Champion Funcle.”