This is the type of post I have grown weary of writing, but once again a life that has made a tremendous impact on me stands ready for a memorial tribute. My uncle, to me he was Uncle Brooks – to basically the rest of the world he was Archie, stepped from the body ravaged with cancer into the splendor of paradise Sunday evening.
He was a warrior, serving in the Army during Vietnam and then for another couple of decades until his retirement. Or, I should say the first retirement; he had several. He was a member of the Special Forces. To my youthful mind, and still to this day, he was the epitome of a warrior. He taught me to shoot, was a constant reminder of honor, and perhaps most impressive to me, was not phased by snakes in the slightest. It was probably a good thing that I never saw him encounter a spider until I was much older, but that’s a different story…
After he retired from the military, he moved into the next chapter of his life, working in law enforcement. During a phase where I was obsessed with being the unwritten extra Hardy Boy, he showed me how to dust for fingerprints and would leave “clues” around the house for me to find. Years later, he moved from law enforcement to construction, then finally retirement moving from the coast of the Florida panhandle to the hills of southern Appalachia.
The new home was a mountain retreat. Navigating the driveway was an art form, and the final forging the creek to get up to the house was quickly learned not to be attempted with a normal vehicle when the weather was below a certain temperature. But every time I visited, he seemed totally in his element. We planted flowers, built a greenhouse, and more than once just took off exploring. I didn’t get up there as much as I should have, or would have liked, but the memories we were able to build will last a lifetime.
Beyond everything else, he was a shining example to me that even the toughest men can love fiercely. I will never doubt that he loved my aunt with every fiber of his being. He was a constant servant to her through her illness, and it was heartbreaking to see him grieve after her death. During that dark time, I was able to spend more time with him than I ever had before. And while there was the shadow, the experiences we had then were also precious.
Eventually, someone else entered his life, and our family grew. And while I still haven’t gotten to know Rachael, I know that I will. His love for her was enough to make her forever part of my family as well. For now, the family is gathering home into Milledgeville to remember a great man who had a profound influence on us all. Last night, we had a seafood feast that rivals any five-star restaurant possible. Tonight, we are going as a group to the restaurant he always made a point of visiting when he was in town. We will be mourning, but we will also be remembering an extraordinary life leading up to Friday’s funeral.