Lessons from My Uncle Harold

There’s nothing like a funeral to focus your mind on what’s really important.

Sunday, I attended the funeral of my uncle Harold–actually, he was my first cousin once removed in the arcane language of family trees, but he was my mother’s age, so my sister and I grew up calling him “uncle.”

Harold would have been 93 next month, so it was rather remarkable to see 250+ people of all ages, genders and races crammed into the funeral home. As Rabbi Sasso noted at the beginning of the service, Harold led a full, rewarding life. The eulogies from his children and grandchildren were clearly heartfelt, full of genuine love and affection, and that affection was shared by the many nieces, nephews, cousins and other family members in the crowded room (too many of whom, I regret to say, I see only at weddings and funerals these days). Even though he was 93, his death was a shock; he had always been healthy, and he’d been out and about until just weeks before he died.

During the service, I considered what Uncle Harold had taught our large, quirky family.

Everyone who spoke reiterated a central theme: here was a man who never said an unkind word about anyone, who looked at the world through rose-colored glasses and saw the positive side of every situation. He was absolutely devoted to his family. He made everyone he came in contact with feel important. He had a great sense of humor, and was the MC of choice at family gatherings.

But perhaps the most accurate description came from his nephew, my cousin, who described him as a man of fundamental decency.

Uncle Harold loved sports, especially basketball and golf. In the 1950s, his favorite basketball team was Crispus Attucks. At a time when segregation was strictly enforced in Indianapolis, Harold, his young son, and my cousin would be the only whites sitting in the stands behind the team, cheering them on.

Harold had become close friends with the legendary coach, Ray Crowe, when he financed the coach’s first car; his finance company was one of the very few that made no-down-payment auto loans–or any loans–to blacks in those days.

When Crispus Attucks won the championship in 1955, blacks couldn’t even hold a celebration on Monument Circle. The team members–even its star, Oscar Robertson–were unwelcome in most of the city’s restaurants and bars, so Uncle Harold took the whole team to Broadmoor Country Club for steak dinners. He also found summer jobs for several of the players, and forced restaurants owned by friends to serve them. To my knowledge, he never talked about any of this; I came across the information in a book about Hoosier basketball.

There is a Yiddish word for people like my uncle Harold: mentch.¬†The best translation is “a real human being.”

As one of his sons said during the service, Harold died a wealthy man. Not because he was financially comfortable, although he was. His was real¬†wealth–the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who adored their “peepaw,” the genuine affection of many good friends, the ability to enjoy–and be grateful for–the gifts life gave him, and something money and power can’t buy: a good name.

A life well lived. And a hard act to follow.

 

 

13 thoughts on “Lessons from My Uncle Harold

  1. The world clearly needs more Uncle Harolds. I am sorry for your personal loss. I’m also sorry for the country’s loss of folks like him.

  2. Sheila… Perfectly said. The mention of our dear Uncle Harold will always bring joy and happiness to my heart. What a truly wonderful man.

  3. Sheila; what wonderful memories you have of your Uncle Harold, he was certainly decades ahead of his time. I hope he read the biography about Ray Crowe; he and your Uncle Harold had much in common besides basketball and a car loan. The book brought memories of those long-ago basketball games to life for me. I never had the honor of meeting Mr. Crowe but he and my ex-husband were good friends so I have an autographed copy. His service to this city and humanity in general gave he and your wonderful Uncle Harold much to share in their lives. I know you will miss him but you are blessed with so many beautiful memories to help ease your loss.

    I, too, had an Uncle Harold. He was our family character. In 1935 he stole an ambulance at the track and tried to qualify it for the 500 Mile Race. He made three laps before they got him to pull into the pits; his racing career ended that day in the track lockup. Our family memories, yours and mine, are rich with much to pass on to our children and grandchildren. Just very different memories. My deepest condolences to you and your family; this is truly a loss to all who knew your Uncle Harold.

  4. I knew you came from good stock. God Bless Uncle Harold and the memories and good example he’s left to even more of us thanks to your blog.

  5. Sheila, thank you for the lovely tribute to my Dad. You have perfectly captured both the man and the event. His spirit and memory will live on.

  6. Dear Sheila: Thank you for sharing Uncle Harold’s story with your readers. We were so fortunate to have had Uncle Harold and we will now take a little of him with us everyday. Harold’s greatest gift to us all was “seeing life through rose colored glasses”. Thank you Uncle Harold and I promise to try and do this more often.

  7. I never had the pleasure of meeting Uncle Harold, but have always heard the most wonderful stories and the up most respect that he gave to people who were treated unfairly (e.i. blacks). He let know one get into his way, not did he believe, whether it was ace, rage, or religion, that NO ONE should be treated diffrently. He seemed to be who he was, and nothing was going to change that.
    Harold- Although I did not meet you, you hold a special place in my heart. I hope you passed your life lessons on to others. :) Rest in peace my friend.

  8. Sheila,
    You have written a most beautiful and heartfelt tribute to my father. I am so sorry that I missed saying hello to you at Dad’s funeral. It has been too many years since our paths have crossed. I sincerely appreciate the warmth and detail of your memories for Dad. Thank you.

  9. Mark–I’m sorry I missed you as well. And I’m glad you and Bob and others in the family liked my post; your dad was one of my favorite people.

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