Learnin’ From A Giant

 

He still fills up door frames in my mind.  I still can hear his voice and his inability to find anything, anywhere, ever.  I get it honest.  He loved life.  I get that honest too. He loved Jeopardy, he hated commercials and he loved the littles in his life.  And he was the consummate teacher.  Always teaching, never missing an opportunity to teach us something; and somehow making us understand house plants to army platoons.  God, I miss him.

My first memories of him are at their beautiful house nestled outside Washington DC.  He worked for NASA and I remember making sure everybody in my world knew that.  I had no idea what he actually did, but it sounded cool anyway.  I would later find out that he worked on translating documents for the Hubble Telescope between the United States and Japan.  He loved words.  I get that honest too.

He loved my passion for life; and he sent the coolest Christmas presents.  He supported my dreams and put me through a private school, systematically snatching me from the snares of life in the ghetto.

I wanted to be a doctor and a writer and he supported both of those dreams.  I was his youngest niece and my mom was his youngest sibling, so by the time I came along, he had lived a full life; had traveled the world and created a beautiful family giving me the best first cousins, who serve move like an aunt and uncle and grandchildren who are more like siblings.  He was Lt. Colonel Lloyd E. Jones.  He was my uncle, he was my hero, he was a giant.

His wife, my Aunt Garland, scared the crap out of us most of the time.  She still is the reason I never use that slang contraction for “am not” and both of them are the reason that “ending a sentence with a preposition is something up which I will not put.”  They both were salvation to us in the summer.  They spent their summers with us in a family mountain house in North Carolina, and they had the coolest grocery store rules.  They went one way with their cart, we went the other. It was the only normal part of my childhood and they were surrogate parents to me.  They realized they were dealing with children who were being raised by wolves.  So, when they had us, whether it be that beautiful house in Virginia or in that mountain house, they did everything they could to save us.  When they offered to pay for us to go a private school, I jumped on that opportunity.  I think it was the first time in my life I made a decision that I can directly correlate to later success.  It meant taking me out of the schools with dingy walls and subpar teachers in the ghetto; and putting me in a safer environment where I was surrounded by kids brought up in the suburbs and in families with two parents who actually raised their children.  Those kids went home to food everyday and they never had to worry about the dangers of my house.  They sent me to an academic haven but more importantly for 8 hours of every day they sent me to safety.  I never told any of my teachers what happened at home.  I still haven’t told most of you what happened at home.  I am not sure I ever will.

He loved my mom, his baby sister and he constantly defended her.  Aunt Garland, not so much, we never heard it, but later in life I knew that she was pulling the reigns of my mom’s manipulative ways that used every possible reason to get money from them.  I think she used the “broken refrigerator” story more than once.  I don’t even remember having a refrigerator, nor do I remember having a stove; we ate out of cans and bags.  He saw her for the person he remembered as a baby, born 13 years after him on a what he called “the coldest December day in Washington DC history”.  They were stationed there as my grandfather wrapped up his storied military career as a Brigadier General.  My mom and her short falls made no sense to him; and he fiercely defended her; really up until the day he died.

Speaking of that day, one of the worst days in my life, it was predicated by a long battle with throat cancer.  So, on that day when the state of Florida deemed her unfit, he was in a hospital room in South Carolina, trying to convince the state of Florida that they could take care of me.  Oddly enough, the only reason the state didn’t send me to them was because they were in South Carolina, they didn’t even pay attention to his fierce battle with the disease that took him from us.  So when I was in foster care with my pastor and his family, he wrote, he called, he sent money.  He jumped on an Amtrak train to come get me and he and I dined in the car of the train; and I thought it was the coolest thing ever.  During that dinner he taught me the history of trains; and how they worked and on our way out of the dining car, he had me convinced I could conduct that train.  Because that is what he did; he taught.  We took an epic trip from South Carolina, up through the Pocono’s for a Jones cousin reunion and then to Toronto to see his children, my cousins .  It was the best summer ever.

Recently, I ran across letters that he wrote me after that summer.  He was in remission, but it didn’t last long.  True to form, he fought with every fiber in him to stay alive.  He took advantage of every drug, every new procedure and any fancy doctor he could find.  His letters during that time, encouraged my school work, and often corrected my spelling from my letters to him.  He called me “darling” and I adored him for that.  He took every opportunity to tell me how proud he was of me; and reminded me that there were no “atheist in the cancer ward”.

He sent the longest letter shortly before my high school graduation.  He was too sick to attend; but he was so proud.  And he knew that he was instrumental to that day becoming a reality.  By then I had learned to stop misspelling words, but he would still edit my short stories and send them back to me.  I found them the other day, and they are horrible!  But he encouraged me to keep writing.  Ending my high school years at a children’s home was not the way he ever would have wanted it.  I was his family; his people and he taught me to never give up on family.  The other day I read letter after letter that he wrote me, from philosophical stuff to the announcement of the birth of my nephew.  He was proud of my sister but prouder of the life she gave his great nephew and my mom’s first “royal grandchild”, Matthew, who was born in January of 1989.  He loved Matthew and I vowed to love my nephew like he loved us.  And I did and do, and my sister would add two girls to that brood later.

My freshman year of college began in the fall of 1990.  He was pretty sick by then.  I got a call at school that he was nearing the end of his life.  Just after using every coin I had to speak to him from a pay phone at college, I maxed out one of my credit cards to send him flowers.  I had been in college exactly one month when I maxed out another credit card to go to his funeral.  It was the death of a giant; the death of that tall man in the frame of doors who often crossed his arms and debated everything you can imagine.  He loved my Aunt Garland, as did we.  She would outlive him by another 12 years.  She deserves her own ode from me.  We laid him to rest in Beaufort, S.C and his “littles” were not kids, but we were still children and not at all prepared for life without him.  We all convened in the airport them from Toronto, me from Tampa and we walked around stunned, none of us having any idea how we would live our lives without the tall man who loved to stand in door frames with his arms crossed, teaching us something.

His job at NASA, as it were, was his career post Army.  He was a highly decorated Lt. Colonel.  And his funeral was worthy of that service; even though he was more brains than a front line battle warrior.  Tears dropped on the ground that hot September day as “TAPS” was played and he was given a full 21 gun salute.  I sobbed as they folded the flag from his casket and handed it to my aunt.  My cousin Emily jumped at the sound of each shot, and all I could do was cry, my tears hidden only by sunglasses but my body literally revolted with heaves of grief.

I survived 18 years of my life because of this man who loved me as if I were his own.  I was in one of the best colleges in the country because of his desire to break the curse my mom chose to start in our family.  I wasn’t sure how life would be without him.  Life had been so cruel already, and I could not understand why God would take such a giant from my life.  I am not 18 any more and that was a long time ago and I still think God should have rethought that one.  Uncle Lloyd would have been 100 years old had he lived until 2020.  I would have been ok with that.

So, as I very much avoid editing this book, I remember to write about him; and that he fostered my love for the written word.  And it is from him that I take my pen name; Amy Lloyd Jones; he would love it.

Until then, I am left with that image of the tall man that filled door frames and hearts of all who knew him; and if anybody should have lived 100 years, it was him.  But, since that wasn’t the case, I still feel the pain of that day.  I would still max a credit card to see him; and often spend money to see my family in Canada because they connect me to the man that loved me more than he taught me; and he taught me everything.

I think of him often, but more lately for some reason.  He would have been 96 years old this month.  He would have never let me stay in a 12 year abusive marriage.  He would still be teaching me stuff and telling me stories; and he would hate this world that we have.  And everybody would know it.  But his love for us would not change and he would give everything to help us remember what family means.  So, during these days when it’s easy to neglect family; life is busy and hard–he would tell me to buy the plane ticket to Toronto even when my summer is filled with weddings, vacations and work.  And I am going to do just that.  And we will remember the giant that was Lloyd Jones; and we will always remember to love each other and that family is not just something, it is everything; even when it’s hard.

I just saw Matthew the other day.  He is 27 years old.  I have failed in the lives of my sister’s kids when compared to Uncle Lloyd; but to be fair, anybody would.  He was the best uncle ever; I am so grateful.  So, for you, Uncle Lloyd, I will finish this book and it will carry your name; an ode to the short stories of mine you edited, read and reread when I was less than a decade old.  It is possible because of you; the man who took every opportunity to teach us, the littles; you were then and you are now a giant to us; we are so grateful.

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