before his death. Photograph by Loa Brummet Servis.
Earlier today, I gave the eulogy for my Uncle Bill Jones at a memorial service. I wrote about him a little bit and posted some pictures the day after he died. It was my birthday today, which made it all just a little bit strange. However, I did get to celebrate a bit later in the night at the Black Bottle in Belltown with Daryle Conners and Keelin Curran. We had drinks and dinner right after attending a lecture by the Buddhist guru Gen-la Kelsang Dekyong, who was fantastic! About which, more later. . .
I reprint the eulogy here because a few people at the memorial wanted a copy, and as a memorial to my Uncle
In this eulogy, I am going to have to call him Uncle Bill. I’ve never known him as anything else. You are his children, grandchildren, sister, friends, brother and sister in laws, daughter and son in laws. To me he was Uncle Bill, and all that entailed.
The things that seemed to matter most to Uncle Bill were, in this order:
His wife, children and grandchildren and sister.
And the ponies.
Even after his stroke, he remembered those things that gave him such great pleasure in life. And he talked about those things: cars, horse-races, his wife, work, and his kids. The details were often jumbled, but he always became animated whenever he talked about his family.
I don’t think Uncle Bill remembered lately, but earlier in our life we spent plenty of time in heated debate—the Republican vs. the Democrat, or the former sailor against the hippy, and he would explain why he didn’t like my haircut, my choice of presidential candidates, or my views on the war.
He loved to yank my chain and I’m pretty sure that’s how I became a chain-yanker myself. But we always walked away friends.
A lot of my memories of Uncle Bill focus on making the trek from the farm town of Kent out to the big city—Ballard, a place he loved (in fact, he regularly razzed us about living “in the sticks”). I remember his patient exasperation when he took me bowling once and I rolled about a 12, or on a Boy Scout trip when I was 11 and he had to teach me how to stay dry, fed, and not be homesick.
Uncle Bill often used my last name. In that booming voice of his, he would call out “Brummet! Come over here.” I think calling me Brummet was his way of letting me know I was by no means a pure-bred Jones, and while he loved and accepted us, there was a hint of suspicion about the Jones blood having mingled with those hillbilly Brummet genes.
Another wonderful memory I have is of Uncle Bill and our Grandpa Jones spinning their gambling stories, and how even then I wondered if they had really won all that money why they weren’t rich? They could spend hours talking about Nevada and the ones that got away…
When we walked in the door of the Ida Culver house, he would ask “What the heck brought you all the way up here?” He couldn’t sort out all the details—but he knew we were family and that was good enough. Often, we would hash out the details of who was who and even when he wasn’t quite sure, he went along with it, good-naturedly humoring us, as we were good naturedly humoring him.
Even up to August 18th, when we saw him for the last time, he still had his sense of humor. The first thing he said to me was:
“What took you so long?”
“You were waiting?” I asked.
“I was,” he said.
“Well, you couldn’t have been waiting too hard, since we had to wake you up.”
“We all have our own ways of waiting.”
And that was the last joke I would ever hear him tell.
Except for one person who had been there two months longer, Uncle Bill lived in the Ida Culver House longer than anyone else. He was a favorite of the nurses and orderlies, who would all stop to talk to him. He was the most radiant person in the place. The nurses liked to bring him snacks and cups of his beloved black coffee.
Despite the confusion, and confinement, and aching knees, he kept up right to the very end smiling and enduring.
One of my favorite pictures of Uncle Bill and my mom was their baby picture, taken in 1923. It’s a charming, “old-fashioned” picture [note: hold up the photo Jack!] and even 40 years ago, I remember thinking how long ago 1923 was and what a different world it was and is.
Last week, we celebrated the twins 84th birthday with him. I don’t know what he wished for, but as soon as he blew out the candles, Uncle Bill urged us on to the main event: cake and coffee. My sister gave him a new pair of gleaming white tennis shoes. He put the shoes on, and was sportin’ and totally enjoying having a new pair of kicks.
As he always did when we left, he extracted a promise from us to come back soon. My last glimpse of him was him waving with that roguish smile of his as the door closed behind us.
I know the last four years weren’t his best years, but I am glad we had them. We learned something about love and family. I know he felt the love of this entire family and took comfort in that.
And I also know that if there is a Heaven, Uncle Bill is up there, in the Grandstand, with a cup of coffee, a Racing Form, and Aunt Jean at his side, cheering on Seabiscuit as she runs against Citation, Secretariat, and Seattle Slew.