Eugene George Bernard Joseph Heinisch. Uncle Gene. Husband. Dad. Brother. Friend. Son. Employee. Volunteer.
We gather in this parish he loved to participate in the rituals of the faith he practiced all his life. Today is not the happiest of times to come together, but death is part of everyone’s circle of life.
Uncle Gene wore his 93 years well. He leaves us an awesome legacy because he touched our lives with his gentle firmness, his strong faith, his belief in family, and his encompassing love for us.
I first realized this when I was 8. My First Communion on an April Sunday. And it snowed–a lot. A real problem since I couldn’t wear those ugly black rubber buckle boots over my brand new white shoes. And I had to get to the car parked in the driveway a snowy distance from the door. What was I to do?
Well, Uncle Gene rescued me. He swept me into his arms and carried me out to the car. Obviously, he understood snow or rubber boots would ruin peep-toed shoes on a little girl’s First Communion Day. That wasn’t acceptable. Well, somebody captured that Kodak moment because I’ve seen the black and white evidence. And I learned Uncle Gene always seemed to be around or available when you really needed him. I could count on it—and did throughout my life.
When he came into our lives, I learned that some cars were called Studebakers, not Plymouths. I learned that there was such a thing as home movies, and during family celebrations Uncle Gene would film antics which today might go viral on You Tube. I learned that Uncle Gene was known for his hearty appetite and his love of homemade desserts. That meant more potatoes to peel, gravy to make, and the cake better not come from a box. I heard fascinating stories about the distant land called Alaska, then a US territory and the place he was stationed during WWII. His stories and descriptions got me reading more about that fascinating state. I learned Uncle Gene was a reader too. As adults we often discussed books we both had read. For many years we shared a love of James Michener and Leon Uris for the plots, distant settings, history, social customs and the epic stories.
Uncle Gene was a hard worker–up very early in the morning for his shift at the post office, then home for a bit before he went to his second job. Even when he retired from the post office, he found another job working for the schools. His hard work provided funds for his growing family. But as a child I loved seeing his “howdy” handwritten on envelopes he sorted at the post office. From him I discovered how hard everyone worked at the post office during Christmas rush–because Uncle Gene would tell the stories at family holiday gatherings.
Because of Uncle Gene, I learned that a man could concentrate on several tasks at once–if they were sports related. It wasn’t unusual to walk into his home and hear different games on multiple radios and yet another game on the TV. Since he read the sport sections of papers, he knew every statistic for every player on all teams or a sport. AS FAR BACK AS GENESIS.
He was the Heinisch equivalent of our modern computer search engines.
Family gatherings always included Uncle Gene and Uncle Savvy herding the kids outside to play something: baseball, basketball, football–whatever. Why I remember on his wedding day, he, Uncle Savvy and a couple neighbor kids played catch in front of the house. Of course someone caught the action on film.
He was a golfer, and I recently learned he had a very large collection of putters. I guess golfers need putters like some women need shoes. However, I remember some of the pants he wore for a golf game. I suspect these wild colored pants might still linger hidden at the bottom of some box. Or perhaps they got passed on to Mike, being the eldest son, maybe for a significant birthday.
When Uncle Gene actually did retire, he and Aunt Mimi spent many winters in the southwest. While they might have wanted to avoid the winter cold, I think Uncle Gene had additional reasons. Like he could golf more often and maybe even sneak in some watching of spring training activities for whatever baseball teams were in the area.
Uncle Gene loved to travel. He and Aunt Mimi took that Studebaker on a honeymoon and traveled out west–with that movie camera I mentioned. Of course he took bits of film, and of course we got to see those natural wonders on film when they returned home. I think he and Aunt Mimi must have visited all the states during their married life. Their enjoyment of road trips outlasted Studebakers’ existence. But since they couldn’t drive to Hawaii, they never got there.
And I remember that tandem bike…perhaps many of you remember it, too. I suspect Uncle Gene purchased that bike at a bargain rate and bought it so he and Aunt Mimi could take bike rides around town. On their rides, they often stopped by my home, perhaps for a glass of water or a little treat like a cookie—if it was made from scratch.
They always looked so cute together on that bike. And every once in a while one might hear a “cotton picking” phrase slip from Aunt Mimi’s lips over something displeasing her. Then Uncle Gene would calmly say, “Now Meem…”
Uncle Gene was a frugal man. He’d been through the depression. He knew hard times. He understood how to get the most use from whatever he had. He worked hard at his jobs, with his sports, around his home, for his family, his church, his teams, his charities–such as the summer festival at the old Marytown abbey on 39th Avenue. He was frugal in budgeting his time but generous in how he shared it. His thrifty nature and hardworking ethic allowed him and Aunt Mimi to raise and educate their 6 children and to enjoy their retirement by doing the activities they both enjoyed. They played together well in their retirement.
They were a couple who truly did pray together, play together, and stay together–for 60 plus years.
To celebrate his 90th year, his family held a “zero picnic.” The zero idea was to celebrate all important zero birthdays and anniversaries family members had that year. Or so they told Uncle Gene. They did this because Uncle Gene didn’t think a fuss should be made over him.
As I look around I see many of those same faces here today. Because that zero day was all about Uncle Gene. Because he was the kind of guy who was always there for us. For 90 years. That party allowed us to play “remember when” memories of good times and bad times coupled with memories of trips or sports Uncle Gene and Aunt Mimi experienced with others. We also made memories that day. I’m so glad that “zero” event happened.
I’m so happy Uncle Gene married my Aunt Mimi. I’m joyous he taught us by example to be upright, inquisitive, adventurous, thoughtful, hardworking. Because he was.
So today we come together here in this church. Again it’s about Uncle Gene. We mourn his death and our loss but celebrate his attaining the eternal reward he worked for every day of his life. He lived his faith. We honor that and send him to Our Lord.
I suspect he’s watching over us now–unless he’s playing some heavenly golf game with family and golfer pals he’s joined in the eternity we refer to as heaven.
We were blessed to have him with us this long. Uncle Gene, we will hold you forever in our hearts. We are better because you were in our lives. Your legacy will go on. We promise.