Who IS Gonna Fill Their Shoes?
We were all saddened to hear about the death of George Jones, one of the legends of country music. He died at the age of 81. He will be missed greatly. He was one of the major influences of country music. I know he gave me years of enjoyment and a great respect for traditional country music. Nobody could sing a song like "The Possum". When he sang, "He stopped lovin' her today"...you believed it with your whole heart and soul...you could feel the pain with every perfect note. We were playing in Vinton, La when we heard the news and that night when we played one of his songs, I couldn’t help but cry. One of the greats had passed on from this old world and I knew things would never be quite the same. It was truly the end to an era. A generation of music.
But then today, the biggest loss to the world came and my life will never be the same. His name was Roy Junior Carroll, he died at the age of 82. To many he was just Junior or Uncle Junior, to me he was and always will be Unck. That was my nick name for Uncle Junior. I was blessed with so many wonderful uncles and aunts. They were all unique, they were all talented, they were all funny, smart and amazing and they all hold a special place in my heart.
But I only had one Unck…he was Mama Bess’ baby brother and she said from the day he was born he was special. He had a spirit about him that is hard to explain, because I don’t know who to compare him to today. As a matter of fact, I am afraid that with the death of my Unck…much like George Jones…there may not be anyone to “fill his shoes”. You see Unck was a different sort of man. He was strong and dependable without being mean or bossy. He was spiritual and pure without being judgmental. I can’t remember him ever saying a bad thing about anyone, yet he could correct those he saw stumbling without being offensive. He did it sternly in love. What a unique talent. What an incredible thing that is lacking so much today.
I grew up just feet or yards or inches away from Unck…(he always noted I had no sense of direction or distance, so I should be watched closely at all times…basically what he said was, "You can't find your way out of a wet paper bag and the only child I know who needs directions on how to get out of a tree she just climbed"...hehe)! His daughters were like my sisters..some people call it ‘cousins’..but we knew better. We knew that we were just sisters you could get away from when you wanted to. Unck probably got on to me more than my own parents because I practically lived at their house. I would show up…usually around meal time (which was my second dinner or supper…yeah... back then we didn’t have ‘lunch’ we had breakfast, dinner and supper …’lunch’ was just something you got at school) and I would bebop in and say, “Hey Unck…what we having for supper?” And he would say, “Hard to tell, but from the smell of it, I think it might be some peas and corn and okra, with something fried and it better be cornbread, ‘cause you know we can’t eat without fried cornbread.” (The man literally would not eat without some sort of bread on the table...now ya know where I get that little obsession).
I think I pestered the living daylights out of Unck for most of my life, but his quiet chuckle always assured me that he would love me no matter what. See Unck was the baby of the family and I was the baby of the family, so he understood that I had some strange belief that I was special and could get away with anything. He even understood I was never even called anything but “Baby” until I was like 35 years old. If someone said my real name, I knew I was in serious trouble or at the doctor’s office. I think that was one of the reasons we had such a special relationship, that and the fact that I spent every other night of my life at his house with my ‘cousins’. He had no problem coming and telling all three of us to ‘not make him come in there again’. I would start giggling so loud after he closed the door, he would open it it back up and say, “And I mean it too!” I knew he meant business so I would bury my head in the pillow and giggle until I fell asleep or passed out from lack of oxygen.
We reminisced about those days just a month ago. It was the day before we left to go on the road. We looked at pictures and laughed at all the memories. When it was time to go, he held my hand a little longer, and I hugged him a little tighter than usual. Maybe somehow we both knew that might be the last time. I don't know, we were too busy laughing about the time we all went on vacation and wet chickens came flying out of our motel room when we checked in to think about such things as 'last goodbyes'.
That is just a sampling of the memories I have of my Unck. As the years passed we would share many laughs, good times and some devastatingly bad times. We shared the loss of his parents, my parents, my brothers, his brothers and sisters, both watched our children suffer with cancer and then...losing my favorite aunt and cousin….his wife and daughter. I did not think we would make it through some of those days. He could have acted all macho and strong and resilient, instead he held me and cried right along with me, showing the true strength of a man. I have seen him be angry but resolved not to let anger take control. I have seen him be humble and proud... only of his children, grandchildren and recently his great grandchildren. I have seen him be silent when most men would have raged and I have watched him take men twice his size down with a simple look and kind but firm word.
Today has been a really bad day. I can’t seem to stop crying. And it is not only because I am sad at losing a special family member. I think it is because I am afraid. Not just that Uncle Junior has passed, but because there is only one aunt left on Mama Bess’ side of the family. That means that whole generation is almost gone. And I am afraid that somehow we might not live up to the standard they set for us. I will admit I am more than a little worried that I don’t have what it takes to be the leader, the example that Uncle Junior and all the others were to us. It is scary to think that my nephews and nieces might look to me the way I looked to Uncle Junior…what a dismal disappointment that might be. I am afraid of ‘stepping up to the plate’ I guess.
George Jones may have made a mark on the world in country music, but my Unck made a mark on the world as a man of God who never sought anything for himself and everything for others. There may be a young artist who can come along to fill the shoes of people like George Jones, Conway Twitty, Tammy Wynette, and Loretta Lynn. Someone that can reach out and touch people with a song that leaves a lasting impression, but I pray that those of us who are now the ‘aunts and uncles’… can come close to filling the shoes of people like Uncle Junior and leave the lasting impression the world really needs. Be patient with us all you young folks…we have some REALLY big shoes to fill. I think the first thing Unck would have done is be honest and admit that he was scared about being able to get the job done.
Rest In Peace Unck….I don’t know how I ever got special enough to have you be a part of my life…but I thank God for it everyday!!!!
For you ...from your Squirrely Girl Niece~
"Will The Circle Be Unbroken"...Chuck Wagon Gang