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Uncle Dale July 21, 2010

Posted by vsap in Blogroll, Uncategorized.
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Uncle Dale passed away  July 19, 2010. He was 89. I could say all the trite things: he lived a full life, married a wonderful Irish girl and raised three beautiful daughters. All true but that’s not what I remember most about him. It is this: hospitality.

My earliest remembrance of Uncle Dale was in the early 1960s. We would drive to his home in Sayre, PA, from our home just across the river from St. Louis, in the summer for family vacation. My Dad wasn’t the most quiet and lovable guy in the world so I figured he opened his home to his sister, my Mom, for a week of rest and activities, too. As it turns out, my Dad was fun to be around for the adults so that was a bonus for Uncle Dale.

Dale was different for many reasons. He left home to join the Merchant Marines as a teenager. He returned to St. Louis where he was married and two of his three daughters were born there prior to heading northeast to be closer to his wife’s family (Aunt Mary). They were a large Irish Catholic family with various business interests. Dale immediately went to work with the affairs of a furniture store, gasoline wholesale dealership and rock quarry. There may have been more, but that’s what a 10-year-old could gather and remember.

I first learned about the stock market while visiting Uncle Dale. He took my Dad and me to this strange place where people sat, drank coffee, smoked, and watched as numbers and letters scrolled on what looked like a neon ticker tape. It was just that, a place where he would go to watch the stock market when he took a break from the furniture store in downtown Waverly, NY.

I first learned about golf and its attendant etiquette while visiting Uncle Dale. The Club at Shepard Hills was his home course, if I recall it properly. This was a beautiful place. I had seen the grass of Old Sportsman’s Park at Grand and Dodier in St. Louis, but I had never seen manicured lawns, lush rough and trees lining the fairways and the magnificent greens. They were a marvel. I don’t remember being a caddy so much as tagging along. I wasn’t very strong but I do remember carrying the clubs. Even in July it wasn’t too hot there so the sweat was not profuse, just nice. This was a place of hills and valleys and i remember wanting to go back every time we visited.

I first learned how tough the labor of a quarry truck driver could be from my Uncle Dale. We visited the gasoline wholesaling business and it wasn’t much more than an office. But, outside the door, or not too far away, was the roar of large dump trucks as if they were going full speed, skidding to noisy stops, then a large crash f rock on metal would fill the air followed quickly by the truck accelerating again. What could it be? Dale took my Dad and me down to the quarry where a Mike Mulligan-type shovel (or front-end loader) would scoop rock from the side of the quarry wall, wheel around (it sat on large tracks, like a lattice boom crane, and swiveled) dump its load into a waiting truck and repeat the process. Load after load, truck after truck. the men in the trucks having just the most brief moment to stop before the load was in and they jammed the accelerators and were gone. I asked Uncle Dale what this was all about and he told me the men were not paid a salary or an hourly wage, but they were paid by the load delivered. So, it was in their best interest to get the load and drop it as quick as they could to come back and get another. I thought to myself, “What horrible work.” I’m sure I didn’t know the half of it. I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do for a summer, much less a living.

Of course, showing us his work and golf game wasn’t all Uncle Dale was about on our summer excursions to his home. I remember trips to Niagara Falls, Watkins Glen and the Seven Fingers region for picnics and afternoons of exploring until I dropped off to sleep on the way back to Sayre.

And, it wasn’t all about the kids either. Fort Erie Race Track offered a refuge for the adults when one of Aunt Mary’s family would take us (kids) into Canadian Niagara for shopping and food while the adults got to bet on the ponies and have a few drinks.

This was the hospitality I remember about my Uncle Dale. My Mom, who passed away two years ago, knew much more. Dale called regularly while my Dad was alive (he passed in 200) and more frequently after Mom lived alone and then in the nursing home. Dale didn’t come “home” frequently. He came back to St. Louis when his Dad passed in 1980; when his Mom passed in 1994; and for my Dad’s 70th birthday party in 1992. He invited my Mom down for a family reunion and I think it was the only time she was on an airplane.

He was the first I called when Mom passed. It was a brother-sister affinity I didn’t reflect on until Mom passed. I see it in my daughter and son and I couldn’t be happier.

How is it I can have such warm memories when I can’t say I know any details of the man other than what I witnessed? Hospitality.

The man had the gift of hospitality and generosity and  I learned important lessons from these things. Yes, my parents reinforced them with me but this man stands out as an example that doesn’t have an equal in my life. I understood something about business from the way he carried himself and I believed I could escape the fate of manual labor for equally honorable professions in business and management. I did, at least in part, from what I witnessed on those trips to Uncle Dale’s and how he conducted himself with dignity and integrity during his life.

Now, Dale is standing in the presence of the Lord with his parents and mine. It is my time to keep the memory and tradition of his hospitality alive so my children and my grandchildren will know Uncle Dale through me.

Some people in this life are unforgettable. Uncle Dale is one of those people for me.

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