“All of us have special ones who have helped us into being.” ~ Mr. Rogers
After his much celebrated career with Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred Rogers received many lifetime awards of one kind or another. He always took those opportunities to acknowledge the people who helped him to become. When time allowed, he would ask the audience, “Take just ten seconds to think about someone who helped you along the way.” He would say, “I’ll watch the time.”
I cannot recall a lot about Uncle Roy, but I can tell you what he looked like. I can tell you where he lived. I recall sitting by his bed when he was sick. In my memory today, it seems he went from walking around in blue overalls to lying in bed very quickly. I can remember him working in his garden. I remember when he parked his Chevy II wagon. Eventually, Uncle Howard bought it and traded it for a blue one which was much newer and nicer. Thelma, Howard’s Wife, wrecked the blue one and totaled it out. I remember a burn-barrel there where the garden was. And I recall a dog named Hobo getting burned there on my watch. Not bad, but he never got near the barrel again. I remember Roy picking a fresh tomato out of his garden, knocking off the red dirt, covering it with salt and biting into it like an apple. Uncle Roy always had Lifesavers. I recall sharpening a knife or two with him on the swing. I remember he’d take the knife and swipe his boots after sharpening it. “Why do you do that?” I asked.
He told me it was to get the burs off. But I heard, “To get the birds off.”
It took me a while to process that.
He showed me how to refill a cartridge but I could not tell you how today. I remember he said, “Never hit a bullet with a hammer. It’ll go off.”
Once bedridden, in an effort to encourage him, I would sit beside his bed and talk about all we’d do when he got better. I really had no idea he was not getting better. That simply never occurred to me. To this day, it breaks my heart to think about how I did not know to say, “goodbye.” But he knew and he didn’t say it either.
Those first seven years of my childhood were very complex. Daddy was an alcoholic and not very dependable. He did have good days, but the bad ones were enough to cancel them all. Roy, I think, was aware of the deficiency and he did a lot to distract me. He allowed me to be near him as often as I liked and I always wanted to be near Roy. Roy was plowing or weeding his garden. He was gathering sticks and burning them. Roy was whittling on a twig. He was cutting grass. In my eyes, Roy was the most productive man in our neighborhood. To anyone else, he may have been less important.
Later in life, I heard that Roy had had quite a temper. Daddy said that he had an X-ray on his chest once and it revealed an old fracture in a rib. “How did that happen?” I asked.
“Aw, Roy and I got in a fight and he took a shovel and hit me right in the rib and cracked it.” He said.
Now he was my dad and I loved him, but I knew enough to know that he probably deserved that crack in his rib. There was, even at that young age, a part of me that thought, “Way to go Uncle Roy.”
Daddy and Roy got in a few more arguments, but I don’t think Daddy ever wanted to push it to that point again. That may be why I felt so safe up there when Daddy was next door; drinking.
I suppose, more than anything else, Roy always seemed to have time for me. Time was what I needed. I recall the day he died. Yes, I was very sad. But I somehow managed to keep Uncle Roy with me all these years.
That was literally decades ago and I can still feel a great deal of love for that man. I do not believe the details of our conversations will come back to me, but the fact that we had them is fixed in my soul. Someone who had nothing in this world to gain by it, took some time to be with me. That point is the point that defined me.
So today, I gave my ten seconds to Roy McBride. I give him credit for sharpening me and knocking the birds off.
At the end of ten seconds, Mr. Rogers would always say,
“Whomever you’ve been thinking about, how pleased they must be to know that you’ve been thinking about them.”
Take ten seconds and do this. I’ll watch the time.