Dear Aunt Susie and Uncle Paul,
It's important for me to say hello, since it's been so long since I've seen you and I feel so close to you now... but I'm so far away.
Please read this to everyone there, it's important that someone know how close they are to their long lost loved ones, regardless of their tangible connections in life.
Paul, I met you briefly as a child, but you were one of my favorite uncles - and I have plenty to choose from. You reminded me of time spent enjoying life. The very first time I stepped on a dock, was at your house. Later, you would teach me tenderness. When your dad was very sick and you came home and you kept watch over him, I was deeply touched that you loved the man after what seemed like plenty of reasons to walk away. Your vigil made me love him more, and that is the essence of tenderness - to convince another that someone is WORTH loving. You did.
Later, when you were sick, you welcomed me into your home and I got to know you and your lovely wife, Susie. I wish I could have spent more time with you, but we're just poor folk spread miles apart. Nevertheless, I felt at home at your house, and welcomed - even during what should have been dark days for you.
All of those gifts are virtues that I hope to take away as learning gifts from you... as your mother said I would. In her last days, she told me to listen to family, that they were valuable teachers... but she couldn't have known what that would mean back then, only that I would do right by her words, as I know you have done. Your momma was the compass by which I live and since her passing I have looked to all the gentle people in my life to steer me right. There are few gentle people.
Many things happened on my trip to Tifton when I saw you last. I learned to appreciate hospitality in a way the rest of our family can't afford. You're a beautiful pair, and you have changed the way I accept people into my home by your love and example. Also, your appreciation (and reasonable care - without ridiculous watering) of a garden helped me think about my little square of land and how to best nurture it into maturity. I wanted nothing else when I bought my house to have a big gate under a towering pine tree... well I built the gate, and the pine is forthcoming. You know what I mean, I've modeled some of my life after yours... quiet, peaceful and utterly beautiful - azaleas included.
In any case I don't want anyone to think that your interactions with me have been insignificant. On the contrary, the lack of hate I felt in your lives was more important than any love I can count on. It was unexpected, and gorgeous.
I wish we knew each other, Paul and Susie. We're the same kind of people. Clean, eat, grow, and teach... even if some of that is unconscious. I'll wear you on my heart forever. And thank you for the gifts you've given, always. You love when it doesn't make sense anymore. You forgive when it isn't popular. You thrive when it isn't possible. You are simply wonderful, and in all honesty, I am humbled by knowing you as I do, just as I was by knowing your parents, Paul, who made me the person I am.
I wish I was there, but since I can't be... know that music and happiness in my heart will always ring of the good ol' days. The times we shared that I know you recognize... music on a mandolin, joyful singing mornings, wonderful questions, and as many answers as they could muster - why?