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Archive for September, 2012

Orangey

When I was 5 or 6 years old, my Uncle Jimmy gave me a present. I  remember that day well because it was something of a shock to be given a toy “out of the blue,” when it was neither Christmas nor my birthday. He didn’t wrap it, he just handed me a clear plastic bag like dime-store toys were sealed in. Inside that bag was an orange teddy bear. This was not just any teddy bear, but a soft orange teddy bear with moveable legs and paws, a squeaker in his stomach, and—here’s the best thing of all!—some kind of yellowish plastic material on his paws, feet, and ears that glowed in the dark! One only had to hold this bear up to a lamp or leave him out in the sun, and when nightfall came, his ears, feet, and paws would glow in the deepest darkest.
Now, it would take a long time to explain about my uncle Jimmy, but he was someone whose life never quite got off the ground. He lived in fits and sputters, working here and there, never settling down or sitting still for long. My father always attributed the fact that my uncle was declared medically unable to serve in World War II as the reason why Uncle Jimmy developed an unfortunate friendship with alcohol, and my father blamed alcohol as the reason why my uncle’s life was so uneven and somewhat sad. I give that explanation only because while Uncle Jimmy had many talents (when sober) gift-giving was not Uncle Jimmy’s strong suit. He never had much money because he could never keep a job, and so all his presents tended to be things that he found discarded in the trash or that someone would give him in exchange for an errand Uncle Jimmy would run. They were never age appropriate if appropriate at all!

But on this particular occasion, the orange glow-in-the-dark teddy bear was the most wonderful gift I could have received. We had recently moved to a new house and my parents had taken that opportunity to convince me that this was the perfect time for me to learn to sleep without a night light. Perhaps they were right, or had read it in some child-rearing book, or maybe they didn’t realize how long it was taking me to fall asleep in this unfamiliar dark room in the suburbs where there were absolutely no street lights at all. Added to the scary darkness was the fact that the door to the attic was in the closet of my room, and many nights I would lie the dark, and listen to the sound of that door tapping whenever the wind blew.
But because of my Uncle Jimmy, Orangey (the clever name I gave to this bear!),came into my life. I would make sure that Orangey soaked up light all day long so that at night, so he could glow faithfully beside me in my bed and allow me to lie down in peace and safety. In a time when I needed a little light in my darkness, Orangey was–via Uncle Jimmy–a God-send.

I have often wondered why Uncle Jimmy gave me Orangey that day; I never asked him. I have wondered if Uncle Jimmy somehow knew about my fear of the dark—else why would he have managed to give me such an appropriate gift at just the right time? He, too, was the youngest child of three children and maybe he could remember needing a little light in the darkness of his childhood. Or maybe in the midst of his own adult terrors and insecurities, he wished for all the world that he had something in his world which was as simply comforting as a bear who breaks up the shadows with a soft , friendly light.

When Uncle Jimmy died in 1979, he was a year younger than I am right now. His death was due to heart complications accelerated by his alcoholism. But however uneven his life was, I am so grateful for Uncle Jimmy–for how hard he tried, for all the little acts of kindness that he showed to so many people, for giving a glow-in-the-dark bear to his youngest niece just when she needed it most. Uncle Jimmy was alone in his apartment when he died, but I have a feeling he was not in darkness.  He was comforted by the light of Christ’s love which surrounded him and welcomed him home.Image

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