Dear DJ…
       Today was the birthday of a very important little guy in my life…. my 6 year old nephew and godson, lil’ Jake. I called him, this morning, on my cell phone, once I got to my construction project- a barn renovation in a town nearby… I didn’t get a chance to talk to him, because, as I suspected, he was probably sleeping, like the rest of his family. They had returned from a week-long vacation in Maine, probably late the night before.
      So, I did what I do when I can’t talk to him directly… I did my best coyote howl, and, then I sang him ‘Happy Birthday’, the best that I could, and left the message on the answering machine… You see, DJ, he’s just a kid, like you, and, he needs to know that people care, especially his ‘Uncle Tinkle’!!   Yeah, I know, get your laughs in, kid!!  It wasn’t a name that I made up, but, when he was very young, my brother asked his little boy who I was… You know, he pointed at me, on that Saturday where we always shared lunch, every week since… forever!! Well, the little squirt was just learning to talk, but, he already had a wild sense of humor!!  He smiled, and with his eyes twinkling, looked at me, and said, “Uncle Tinkle!!”  Bless his heart…
       Well, DJ, even tho I left a message, and I’ll see him in 2 days at his belated birthday party, I was sad… I felt like he had expected to see me, and, get that big bear hug and growl, that I give him every time I see him…  I put the phone down and tried to work… Then, my thoughts went to you…. I couldn’t help but feel that you needed that big bear hug, just like my little nephew. Especially with what’s been going on…
       So, I worked for a while, but, I couldn’t concentrate.  Finally, after about 20 minutes, I put my tools away, and shut the barn doors… I got into my truck and headed North…
        It took a while, but, I didn’t care… The whole way, I was thinking about two little guys that have touched my heart in such special ways…
        I arrived at Jakey’s area some 40 minutes later, and, as I drove down that last winding country road, and turned down the tiny street that leads to his house, I saw in the distance, a little boy, standing with his back to the big maple tree in the front yard, all by himself… He was looking down at the new sneakers that he had on, and kind of daydreaming… As I approached, I rolled my window down, and did my best coyote howl…
      I have never seen him smile like that, before…

      The first thing that he said to me, as I swept him off the ground, and into my arms was, “I knew you would come, Uncle Tony… ” I think I hugged him for a full minute… He wouldn’t let go…
      When he finally did, and I put him down, he asked me what was wrong… I told him that I was OK, as I wiped the tears from my eyes… You see, DJ, I was hugging 2 kids for that long minute….
      I hope you don’t mind, but, I did it for everyone out here that really misses you, and wants you to know, that you are one of the best kids that ever graced us with your presence… We are less, because you’re gone…
      Well, now I’m crying again, and, I don’t know how to stop… Stay safe, little man… We love you, and miss you, and want NOTHING but the best for you!!

                                         Love, tman<3

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