Uncle Jim: A Thanksgiving Memory

Late November 2011 sunrise

I’m posting late today, but my reason is I’ve been busy caring for my disabled son. He’s a vent dependent quadriplegic—think Christopher Reeve a.k.a Superman. Neither one was disabled by Kryptonite but falls. Different circumstances for my son and Christopher Reeve, but the result was the same—a catastrophic life change. Neither one of them would ever be able to do anything for themselves again.

Catastrophic for the injured party. Catastrophic for their families.

In our case one of the consequences is that if we can’t leave him alone and often must miss events or appointments if we can’t get help with caring for him. Sometimes we can’t plan on this. People get sick, have accidents, die. That often messes with a schedule or free time.

So do holidays and vacations.

And this week in November has Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving week and Christmas/New Years are always difficult. But several years ago, 2002 I think, my uncle and godfather died on this day. I was caring for my son and wouldn’t be able to get to Minnesota for his funeral or to the small farming community in Iowa where he would be buried. I felt so bad then about that. I still do.

But I knew then and still do, that he understood why I wasn’t there. By staying positive about my responsibilities to my son I was honoring him in a manner he always understood. He practiced it himself. And by his example he passed that characteristic on.

Uncle Jim and me

Of course, he had a fantastic example in his father and mother. Both were always about family and being nurturers. My grandfather even extended that to his occupation as a farmer. Hed nurtured his land and his animals as he did his family and his friends.

As an adult my uncle and I lived a great distance from each other. However, my connection and deep affection for him never faltered. I loved his quiet sense of humor. I admired how hard he worked in his life to provide the best life possible for his family. I loved that he always honored his parents; I adored them.

I remember as a little girl and before he married, he tried to quit smoking. He always had a carrot in his pocket or a toothpick. I suspect he started smoking when he was in the service during WWII because my grandfather hated the smoking habit.

My Uncle Jim was younger than my mom but always her big brother. She loved him dearly In the last few months of her life when I was staying with her at night, she would talk of her brother and different experiences they shared growing up. A few days before she died she mentioned she was ready because she would soon be with those who went before her, especially Jim and my dad.

And that reminds me of another part of Uncle Jim. He helped me to understand my father and the complex man that he was. They were very different Uncle Jim and my dad. But they respected each other. They loved each other. Uncle Jim told me once he’d never forget that my dad drove my Gram, Uncle Jim’s mother, to Minnesota when Uncle Jim was very ill. He reminded me my dad had a sense of family and I should never forget it. (Sometimes that wasn’t easy with my dad and me)

Uncle Jim. Dad, Mom

And another special memory I treasure concerns a strawberry milkshake. I was at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and had endured two extensive and very long surgeries on my back. I’d not been able to keep any food down for over a week. The result—I wasn’t starting to heal. My uncle and aunt came down for the weekend. My mom who was staying up there to be near me was very worried. Uncle Jim had his usual calming effect and after about half an hour, he slipped from the room and returned later with milkshakes. Mom had strawberry so he got a tiny one for me. Just in case.

He teased me in his own special way, trying to get me to at least taste it. I had to try. After all, Uncle Jim asked.

That shake tasted so good. Even better it stayed down. Before he left the next day, he managed to get another one down me. Two weeks later I was finally able to go home.

I swear that shake was what started my healing process. Thank you, Uncle Jim.

So every year, Thanksgiving comes around. Every year I’m spending more time with my son. And every year I think of Uncle Jim and how he helped shape me to be the caregiver I’ve become. It’s tradition. It’s family. I’m thankful I had Uncle Jim in my life.

So who are you especially thankful for having been part of your life?

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24 Comments on “Uncle Jim: A Thanksgiving Memory”

  1. That picture of you & your uncle is so precious!

    I’m thankful for all of my friends and family, though I sure wish I’d spent more time with those who aren’t with me anymore (mainly,my mother & brother). And I’m thankful for you. 🙂

    I have a milkshake/uncle story. When we first moved here to Green Bay, Paul & I helped his parents take care of his Uncle Mike who lived alone (his wife has passed years before, and he had no children). We would take turns going to his house to prepare breakfast & lunch, do his laundry, clean his house, etc. I loved the crabby ol’ guy, and I think he was pretty fond of me…no one else in the family ever came to help him or visit. He ended up in a nursing home after a hard fall in his home, and we would go to visit him a couple times a week. On one occasion I asked Paul to stop at McDonald’s so I could get Mikey a vanilla shake. I can’t tell you how thrilled he was by that one small offering. He grinned at me around the straw while he drank, and I just couldn’t help smiling while he sucked that thing down. Sadly, we discovered he had died the next morning, so that’s my last memory of him. Your milkshake story thankfully, had a much better ending. 🙂

  2. What cool stories about loved ones. My father-in-law passed away August 3rd and he was really a cool guy and we all miss him. He never said a mean thing about anybody ever and he was 91 when he died. That’s a lot of years not talking badly about a lot of people he COULD have spoken ill of. He was a great example to us all.

  3. caseyclifford Says:


    I love your Uncle Mikey story about the shake and I’m also very thankful for you in my life. Really–you know that. If you ever get a chance to read Seasons, my Uncle Jim’s strawberry milkshake was the reason I put the milkshake scene in there. Even though, of course, neither one of the two drinking their milkshakes were anything like the original scene. But that’s the writer in me…

    Miss you much. Have a great Thanksgiving. 🙂

  4. caseyclifford Says:


    Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thanks for your father-in-law. I love hearing family memories, any family, as they feed my muse in such a positive way.

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and be thankful you had your FIL for so many years. 🙂

  5. Deb Maher Says:

    What a wonderful memories of a special person. That generation had such solid values. They understood family, and what it meant. A wonderful legacy for us all.

    Despite geographical distance, I’ve always felt close to my mother’s brother and sister. Maybe it’s because my own brother and I were the two oldest children of their older sister. My Aunt Fran cared for us when we were babies, and Mom had to work. And Uncle Russ was great to talk with. Brilliant man, he could talk about and had an opinion about just about anything.

    They are in their early 80s now. In August I took the time and money to fly to northern Minnesota to visit with both. We had some great conversations. A week was much too short.

    Your photos and memories are precious. Thanks so much for sharing.

  6. Eileen Doyle Says:

    How precious memories are. Steven is so lucky to have you. I’m very lucky to also have a friend like you that writes such great stories. I read your book in the hospital and appreciated reading a nice love story at that time. Keep the stories coming.

  7. caseyclifford Says:


    So glad that Seasons of Wine helped you get through the time in the hospital and helped to “escape” to a world that contained no stress for you. Did you like the Easter egg hunt scenes? Weren’t the Riccini family fantastic?

    I’m also very lucky to have such wonderful friends including you. I’m thankful for them and you everyday. Bailey stays in my thoughts and prayers.

  8. caseyclifford Says:


    I remember your telling me about Aunt Fran and Uncle Russ. And those long drives to MN from GB after the conferences.

    I’m thankful for friends I’ve gathered from WisRWA, especially my Capricorn one who always has the answers to my questions. 🙂

  9. Kathy (Dieter) Goldenstein Says:

    Mary Jo –

    I have learned so much about my daddy and my grandparents and you by reading this blog weekly. I always knew he adored you, he would get a sparkle in his eyes whenever he spoke about or was with those he loved most – and his eyes always sparkled when he talked about you or was with you. He loved you dearly and was so proud of all you had accomplished.

    Yesterday we had our first snow and I was in the midst of it coming home. I hate driving in snow (probably shouldn’t be living in MN!) and so as I got in the car I said out loud , “Get me home Daddy”. And as always he did – still protecting me even from heaven. I still miss him every day.

    Thanks for sharing your memories and making a hard day alittle easier.

    Love – Kathy

  10. Edie Ramer Says:

    Another heart-warming story. You were blessed to have had such great people in your life. And many people are blessed to have you in your life.

    My husband emptied all the furniture out of our bedroom this weekend and washed the carpet (while I went off to have lunch with the Milw. WisRWA group), and today he painted the bedroom walls. Tomorrow he’ll put the bedroom back together. So, I’m grateful to be married to him right now.

  11. Anne Parent Says:

    My special people were my grandparents, in particular, my grandmothers who taught me that reading was the gateway to the world. I traveled to places I most likely will never see in person, but it doesn’t matter. I have a very active imagination.

    And, with reading in mind, thank you, Mary Jo, for SEASONS OF WINE AND LOVE. I now know the passion of the strawberry milkshake!

  12. caseyclifford Says:


    I’m so glad you stay in touch with checking this blog. As I write I often hope it reaches out to those I’m connected to who live a distance away.

    I love your memory of Uncle Jim’s sparkle in his eyes. And the story of the snow and you talking to him to get you home safe. Like he always did. He took such good care of those he loved and still does. Like you, I talk with him regularly and with Gram and Grampa D also. Truly, I was so very fortunate to be the first of the grandchildren and arrive when I did during the war years. Because for all the horror of that war and the awful experiences our guys endured (my dad suffered always afterward from parasites etc picked up in the South Pacific islands he fought in), I got to live with Gram and Grampa and for all that time.

    May you and yours have a memory filled and thankful holiday.

  13. caseyclifford Says:


    You give your hubby an extra hug for making your bedroom fresher with new paint as we head into this winter. And to do it while you’re with WisRWA friends. How perfect!

    Have a great holiday and happy birthday to your son.

  14. caseyclifford Says:


    I love that your grandmothers instilled in you your love of reading. As writers, we need that audience, right?

    I so agree that reading allows us to venture to places we may never see and feel connected/understand people we might never get a chance to experience. I love reading and taught myself very early on. And where did I do this? At my grandmother’s home and she was so delighted. So was my Grampa!

    Have a great Thanksgiving. 🙂

  15. Beautiful story from a beautiful person.

  16. lori Says:

    Thanks for this gift…I woke yesterday with the Prayer for the dead and said it for my daddy and for all those that went before in faith…”Eternal rest grant unto Him…may his soul and the soul of ALL the faithfully departed…rest in peace” And then I pictured his resting place in Vail…overlooking the beautiful midwest plains… They wait for us, don’t they…? And we will be reunited one day. Family. The ties are incredible, aren’t they? Blessings on the day and the week to you and all of yours as you gather…

    Lori (Dieter) Darby
    daughter of your Uncle Jim

  17. caseyclifford Says:


    Thanks for stopping by and adding a comment. 🙂

  18. caseyclifford Says:


    Thank you for stopping by. It’s as if we had a little chat across the miles. And Uncle Jim brought us together. 🙂

    I love that little cemetery on the hill overlooking all those magnificent rolling hills. Uncle Jim left part of his heart in that town so populated by ancestors. Every time I visit there, I think of the stories I heard and then to see those places …

    You and your family have a blessed holiday season also.

  19. Cyndie Kimball Says:

    I know many are into genealogy and family tree – but I relish the family lore. Stories from of old – that make all those on a family tree really come alive. I love checking in here weekly to hear your stories of family – from of old and from of new. To meet your son or grandson in one post and then to hear stories of our shared grandpa and grandma.

    Of course I love your memories of my Dad – your Uncle Jim – because you knew him as a young man. He was my hero – a man of faith – of hope – of charity. A man who cherished my mother – a man with a twinkle in his eye – a man who loved to tease.

    I also relish your pictures – you once sent me the first one in this post (and I love it) but I have never seen the one of your folks with my Dad. Someday Mary Jo I want to spend time with you in Kenosha going through all your pictures and listening to your stories. Till that day I will pop in weekly to be nourished by your stories of family old and new.

    Thanks for sharing! Love, Cyndie

  20. caseyclifford Says:


    I love that photo of my parents and Uncle Jim. I just got it sometime in the last year. I think from Aunt Mimi when she was getting rid of things and going through closets before she moved. In a private email, I’ll send you the jpg. The look on your dad’s face is priceless and so him. And check out his hand.

    And the suspenders he’s wearing bring back memories of Grampa. He always wore them. I swear it was from the farming days. Grampa had several different pair for different things. I can’t tell you how often Gram and I would go shopping for–you guessed it–suspenders!

    Have a great Thanksgiving and when you’re listening to Arlo, think of us just for a moment.

  21. carol gianforte Says:

    after appreciating and enjoying your blog for some months now, I found this one , for me, to be the best. Thank you for sharing the story about your son –and the story of your uncle and how they intertwine with your own life.

    We are all given the chance to help and inspire others…and this blog reminds us so well of that. You are an inspiration. AND I will try harder!!

    you are shouldering so much, which a mother wants to do, but there must be times when it seems lonely and and overwhelming. Then examples like Uncle Jim and our faith bring us through once again.

  22. Carol,

    I hope your holiday was all you hoped for.

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting on my post. Our journey at the moment is extremely difficult and stressful, and I can’t imagine how difficult my son must sometimes find his days. However, we must all accept our challenges gracefully and with hope. Otherwise we ourselves make those challenges insurmountable.

    Have a good week.

  23. carol gianforte Says:

    i will truly be praying that your son will be given the i strength to look upward and find meaning and hope. What brings him a measure of happiness and peace? Please try to let me know.

    a mother’s heart is so so tender…

  24. Carol,

    Steve is happiest when he knows he’s safe and around people you care about him. He wants to stay here at home where he feels secure. I only hope we can continue to do so.

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