We’ve spent the past few weeks planning that annual blow-out family extravaganza. No, not Christmas. The other blow-out extravaganza. The one where Uncle Delbert gets to escape the Minnesota winter for Vegas, Baby!
We’ve made four or five such trips over the years, all sponsored by the CE, who blithely herds a passel of non-Vegas type relatives to Sin City so Uncle Del can try his luck at those slot machines.
But truthfully, luck was never Uncle Del’s strong suit. Not at his premature birth, where the attending country doctor’s clumsy forceps delivery left Uncle Del to face the world with cerebal palsy. Not during his childhood, when he suffered severe burns from a lamp that caught fire and later sustained injuries from being hit by a car. And not as an adult, when after finally finding happiness with his wife, Thelma, she died unexpectedly just a few years after they were married. Not even in his later years when he could no longer hobble painfully with his cane and was left wheelchair-bound after his damaged leg was amputated.
And even bad luck runs out. Ever since last year’s Vegas trip, Delbert had been plagued with various health issues. He was in and out of the hospital and mostly confined to bed. He was so looking forward to Vegas in January, but it wasn’t to be. Delbert passed away Thursday morning at the age of 92.
It is an understatement to say that Delbert did not have an easy life. Yet many of the CE’s favorite family memories centered around his Uncle Del. Summer fun at Delbert’s Lake Carnelian cabin. The spirited but always-in-fun political debates between Del and the CE’s Dad, Lyle and the long-running gag between the two about Del’s hellish attempt to buy lawn chairs from Montgomery Ward. It was one of those “you had to be there” bits, but years thereafter all Lyle had to say was “You ever get those pumpkin-colored lawn chairs, Del?” to get Del going again.
Delbert could be gruff and cranky. And nothing made him crankier than losing at Hearts. The story goes that Del’s father, L.P., passed him the queen of spades one time too many, whereupon Delbert stood up, thumped his father in the chest, and quit the game forever.
But beneath the bluster, Delbert had a tender heart. He never had much, but as the CE says “he gave away everything he ever had”. He barely squeaked by in his later years but remained generous to a fault. He treated friends and family to the homemade caramels and stained glass art pieces that he somehow made with his gnarled hands.
Delbert was always rich in friends and family. Brother Bill and sister Phyllis kept close tabs on him. Niece Gail spent vacations wheeling Delbert around on Midwestern lake adventures. Del cherished his beer buddy, Herb, his gambling buddy, Willie and had a special place in his heart for the young boy, Eli, who he mentored. Juanita Boatman-Hill appeared like an angel in his last years and tirelessly volunteered to oversee his care and made his Vegas trips possible by coming along as his caretaker. Nephew John and grand-niece Chrissy were there to the end, taking care of everything Delbert couldn’t.
We were initially puzzled to hear that Delbert requested to have his ashes scattered in the St. Croix river until Uncle Bill explained the mystery. Del apparently had a lifelong wish to visit New Orleans and since the St. Croix meets up with the Mississipi, he will finally get there. Determined to the end, that was Delbert.
When the CE’s dad, Lyle, died, Delbert commented that “a great light had gone out”. And now another great light has gone from our lives. The rest of us will still gather in Las Vegas next month; it might seem like an odd place for a memorial service, but I think it’s exactly what he would have wanted. We’ll miss you, Uncle Del.
He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:29-31