To my Uncle Gary I was known as Kelly. This was a name he used to call me when I was young, pretending and teasing me that he didn't know my real name. Kelly stuck though, and was the name he called me the reminder of his life.
When my Aunt Vicky asked if I wanted to speak at his funeral, I didn't hesitate. I knew the story I wanted to share. It's a story that many of you may have heard in some form or another because it's one one he loved to share.
Here's my version:
Almost six years ago, Uncle Gary and I were sitting in my grandfathers hospital room. Together, the three of us were discussing my upcoming move out West to Colorado. I am known to be a bad traveler on road trips. I get car sick, I need an endless supply of snacks, I'm impatient, I get bored...the list goes on. I had every intention of paying out of pocket to have my car shipped on a semi truck and my belongings delivered via UPS. As soon as I shared those plans out loud, Uncle Gary stopped me immediately and said, "Let me drive your stuff to Colorado!" My reply, "Does that mean I have to ride along?" "Well hell no I don't want to put up with you that long," he said, "book a one way plane ticket for yourself and I'll take care of the rest."
Gary called his late friend Randy to ask if he'd make the trip across the country with him. Randy had never been east of Ohio and uncle Gary thought this would be the perfect opportunity to expose him to all that the West had to offer.
He said "We'll back track to some of the same places I visited on my motorcycle retirement trip a few years ago. I'll take you to Las Vegas, Arches National Park, the Grand Canyon. And there's this giant boulder that saved my life during a hail storm in Rocky Mountain National Park - I'll take you there too and tell you the whole story!"
It didn't take much convincing. Randy agreed to drive my car across the country while Uncle Gary would drive his own car, pulling the small U-Haul full of all my belongings.
What Uncle Gary neglected to tell Randy was that my car was the size of a matchbox and didn't have cruise control or air conditioning. Not an issue, except they were making this trip in the middle of summer.
On the morning of departure, Uncle Gary said, "You know Randy, I feel kind of bad you won't have air conditioning on this trip. So I'm going to drive with my windows down too."
Gary didn't make it to Breezewood before he had the windows up and air conditioning cranked.
((Breezewood is only 40 miles from his house. I can hear him laughing, he loved that part of the story))
They made it to Chicago the first day, right around rush hour. While they sat in traffic for over an hour, in the heat and humidity, Randy called Gary and said "I know you're a road warrior but if you think I'm driving another mile down this damn road, you're crazy. I've lost ten pounds in sweat, while you've enjoyed the comfort of your air conditioned car. I need a shower and a bed."
At this point I am sure Randy was reconsidering his decision to join my uncle on this adventure.
They drove the remaining 10 hours the following day and arrived safely at our Colorado apartment in the early evening. Poor Randy looked as if he'd rode a horse across the country. He was soaked head to toe in sweat and terribly cramped from sitting in a tiny 2001 Hyundai Accent for two days straight.
Uncle Gary on the other hand jumped out of his car, with a smile on his face, ready to help us unpack.
My husband and I offered to take them to dinner, but Randy was begging for a cool hotel room and a pie of pizza. While Uncle Gary (in typical Gary fashion), was already mapping out their journey the following morning, with plans to be on the road at 6AM. We hugged them goodbye and wished them safe travels.
In the days that followed, and in an air conditioned car may I add, they really did tour the west - making their way to each and every destination planned. And although Uncle Gary claims he found the same rock that saved his life years before to show Randy, I think he's full of shit. I've been to that park hundred times and the whole dang place is covered in rocks and boulders!
I'll never forget your sense of humor or your George Straight smile, Uncle Gary. You taught me the importance of being punctual, even though I'm always late. And that air conditioning really is not overrated.
Your heart may have been weak, but it was made of gold. I'm so fortunate to have been loved by a man like you.
I love you dearly, Uncle Gar and hope Randy and you can continue your adventure in heaven together.