Uncle Johnny was my idol growing up because he was a dad. All my cousins had a dad, and I wanted a dad also. My father was alive and well, at the time and to my knowledge, he did not attempt to include himself in my life. Since my cousins referred to Uncle as Dad, I picked up the practice of referring to him as such—at least in my mind! The title “Uncle,” equaled in stature to the title of “Dad.” I imagined Uncle loving me the way he loved his children. It sometimes worked too.
He took all the boys fishing often, something I did not find interesting. Going with him though, made me feel included. Far be it from me to ever make it known that I did not like fishing because that dislike paled in comparison at the thought of spending time with Uncle.
A bunch of us kids accompanied Uncle to a fishing spot of his in Clearwater, Florida. Every time we went fishing with him, he caught something delicious for us to cook and eat--fresh crab or fried fish. It was great! I wanted to be just like Uncle in bringing something delicious to the house, but I had no fishing pole.
My cousin Edward allowed me to borrow his fishing pole and some bait, and Uncle Johnny showed me how to cast off. I hooked a fish my first try and pulled it in! Nervous, I did not know what to do and felt awkward about the situation.
I saw the pleased look on Uncle Johnny's face and beamed with pride. Edward determined since I used his pole to pull in the catch that he had jurisdiction over my fish. I did not protest. The fact that I made Uncle Johnny proud provided all the satisfaction I needed. Edward mutilated my fish. He said he did it to make more bait for other fishing. It made sense to my young mind, but Uncle Johnny chastised him for it. Again, I was overjoyed that I merited Uncle Johnny's concern. I was in heaven! I did not know it at the time, but I starved for a father figure. I am glad that Uncle Johnny was there to fill that role for me when he had eight of his own about whom to worry.
Sweet time for bitter shame
The trial that I experienced with my uncle occurred when I absentmindedly retrieved the sugar scooper from the dirty floor where I carelessly dropped it as we stood in the kitchen together. Looking back on that experience and what happened afterward, I believe there was something else on Uncle Johnny's mind than my mistake because of the intensity of his response. He yelled at me once he saw what I had done, took the scooper out of the sugar container, dumped some of the sugar out of the container and slapped me.
He did not try to hurt me, I know because he would have taken my head off had he really put any power behind the slap! The reason I remember it so distinctly rests upon my great reverence and love I for him. Up to that juncture, never had he really yelled at me that I could remember and he had always been the “cool” parent—he did help raise me. To hear the disappointment in his voice and the anger to strike me caused so much shame I wished to disappear.
I remember his hand crossing my face after asking me why I had not cleaned the scooper off before putting it back into the canister. I responded with some typical silly kid response that Bill Cosby would poke fun at had he heard. I remember his hand raked my left eye just a little. I covered my face with both hands and stood there embarrassed. I could not cry because I thought it would diminish me in his sight, and I could not move because I would cry.
I do not recall how long I stood there after that, but my other cousin and friend, Stephanie, comforted me afterward. She did not comfort me because I felt abused or physically hurt. I thought I had made Uncle into an enemy. She comforted me because I thought I disappointed the only man that I knew as a father by being careless.
To some, the incident was insignificant, but to my kid-self, my world had its foundation shaken. I have never really recovered from the disappointment I felt I caused my uncle, which amazingly still affects me presently. I regret I allowed years to pass without mentioning ever to Uncle Johnny how much I love him and how important his opinion of me mattered.
“Wherefore,” Moroni informs, “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ.”
I could get that love if I prayed for it because it is a gift God gives to all of the true Christians!
I love my uncle even though the family dynamics have changed over the years. No one can take away my good experiences with him or the lesson I learned when I dropped the sugar scooper.
sugar SCOOP LESSONS
The first lesson is:
Sometimes even the best relationships have problems, but those problems are fixable if both parties are willing to forgive.
I did forgive him. Moroni knew that I would have many situations like this, so he put in Chapter Seven in The Book of Moroni in the Book of Mormon. Like Paul in The Holy Bible, Moroni instructed us to have charity, which suffers long and is kind. It does not seek its own desires but the good desire of others. It is good to forgive.
The second lesson I learned from that episode with Uncle Johnny is:
To be careful of my actions because I might not enjoy the consequences.
I gave no thought to my action when I removed the sugar scoop from the floor and put in into the container. Though it was a simple thing, do not great things occur because of simple actions? Also, I learned as a father that I must be careful of how I conduct myself. Never do I want to react or overreact to a situation that merited a less intense response. Uncle Johnny's actions did not take away my love for him in any measure, but my action toward my kids (or others) might not fare so well.
The teaching may not come directly from Moroni, but he still saw my day, my life and supported the book with his life that would eventually teach me. What has Moroni seen of you?