Choo Choo John

My greatly-loved Uncle John died June 11. Almost a full month ago, and I’m still reeling a bit. Many of you already knew that he died since you follow my amazing Aunt Anne’s blog — Mehrling Muse – Life in the Mountains. I haven’t written because I felt it was her right to share first.

Words have been swirling in my head in regard to how to write about it. Sometimes even writers have to give up, I think. There is no way to put appropriate verbiage on all he meant to me. But I can at least get the basics out.

When I was growing up, his family lived next door. I remember meeting for dinners in a gazebo between the houses. He and my dad commuted to work, and I loved hearing them joke about handles they used and chatter they commented on as they used CB radios to communicate while stuck in traffic on their commutes. Didn’t hear me? What? Do you have peanut butter in your ears? That was a particularly funny phrase for my under-ten self.

I’m trying to think of when I most connected to Uncle John. He might have literally saved my life from stories I heard. Apparently one time when I was very young he and my mom were talking in the yard, and I called down from the second story window I climbed into (as children do). His task was to keep talking to me calmly while my mother ran in to drag me to safety. I have no recollection, but it seemed their plan worked so yay, and thank you to him (and my mom).

The moment I felt as a true connect was when I was nine. We didn’t know it until a decade later, but I had Lyme disease which led to encephalitis (that part I knew). It messed with my brain a bit, and I lost the ability to hold dates. I wasn’t thriving in history class in school (understatement) so Uncle John John tutored me. What a gift! That man made history come alive like no other person could. I didn’t need to think of dates when I connected to the humans involved in history’s stories! It just flowed. (I say as I read my current novel on Nefertiti). Yeah. His history lessons worked. And now I’m enamored with stories of the past.

But it didn’t end there. The man was an integral part of my world. In such a beautiful way. He was my sixth-grade Sunday school teacher — teaching me about the history of the church. That was pretty cool. Then when I had kids myself, he embraced connections with them.

All who knew him understood this man had more than an interest in trains. A train connection was kind of built into his core. My eldest son started calling him Choo Choo John. My son CJ also had an affinity with trains, and Uncle John was a bit of an idol, I think. Not only were Aunt Anne and Uncle John always there for me, they were there for my kids. Any of you who are parents probably get this. When someone is there for your kids — it kind of means everything to one. Am I right? I think so.

It’s the little things that are sooooo big. This man (and Aunt Anne who is a huuuuge part of this even though this post is about Uncle John) drove out to Utah and actually visited my kids and spent time learning their world. Just wow. They also visited me several times in my home.

Once they drove about four hours just to have lunch with Chris and me. Do you understand why I have no real words to describe how I really feel about him/them? Like really, how do you get blessed with people like this in one’s life? Such a gift.

To be real, signs of the end were showing. I really enjoyed Christmas celebrations in North Carolina in 2020. In 2021, Chris and I decided to both go visit. The actual traveling was not fantastic (mildly put–traffic is insane). But we commented even then that nobody is getting younger, and we had better grab the time while we had it. Although the trip itself was rather horrific, the time with the family was super awesome.

Before we went there, I was asked if there was anything special I would like to do while there. I expressed the fact that I had really enjoyed the family Christmas traditions and decorating I experienced the year prior. True to norm, I was oblivious of dates and didn’t realize I was earlier this year. They hadn’t even gotten their tree yet. When I got there I realized that and tried to backtrack, but they wouldn’t hear of it. Christmas decorating went on full-force.

It is now, in hindsight, particularly beautiful to me that Uncle John and I spent some hours putting up angels (which Aunt Anne loves) in the kitchen. His love for her showed clearly and each angel had a place that was settled with great care.

My last physical memory of him was his saying he loved me as he gave me a hug as I left. I still feel it. What a gift! And he didn’t even know it. He just was him. Dang! (yeah, I may be tearing up a bit again.)

So yeah, there’s that element, too. I have grieved before. I’m fifty — of course I’ve grieved. But what gets me is that it’s never the same. Sometimes tears are just not there no matter how awful one feels. And sometimes there are angry tears.

This one has turned me into a sieve. I don’t know why. Like really, I was comparing rice prices at Aldi one day and just started eye-leaking. Why?!?!? I have no answers. I am not a crier, and the man didn’t cook. There is no reason. And yet, there it is. Thank God for makeup. Moving on….

So I’m in tech. A person dies, and what do I do? I, of course, look to see what my last words with him were. We had discussed the new train schedules between NYC and Pittsfield, MA. Exciting for both of us. And two days before he died he notified me of a discovery in which “Turin uncovers wooden water main that could pre-date the Civil War.” (Turin is within an hour of our NY abode). I had thanked him for it and told him I found it interesting.

He did that for everyone. He was an amazing researcher and knew what would appeal to people in his world and shared it. Such a unique gift.

So yeah. He died, and life is supposed to move on. And it does. But he will join three other people from my past that I think I will never go a day without thinking of. I look forward to our reuniting on a different plane, which I do truly believe in.

I’m kind of done in, so I think I will write about the memorial next time. I promise — in spite of it’s being a somber topic, that has a happier note.

I love you, Uncle John. You are very greatly missed. Thank you for being you. (if spirits can read). Aunt Anne? You are still here — you know how I feel. There are no words to say how much I love you. This one hurts for us all.

27 responses to “Choo Choo John”

  1. Thank you for sharing such a touching post. Dad loved you so much and you always made him feel special. <3

  2. So beautiful post. Nice you share memories. I like. You suggest how can stay relationship always. I like . Iam so happy!

  3. Thank you for sharing this in the midst of your grief. The sharpness with which you feel Uncle John’s loss reveals the depth of connection you and your family shared with him. I hope the sweet memories ease the pain over time. I’m just a ping away if you need someone outside the family to talk with 🙂

  4. Anne and Chrissie, I am so very sorry for your loss. Apparently John died unexpectedly since Chrissie was chatting with him two days before he died. Unexpected deaths take even longer to grieve, I think. Praise God for the hope he has given us! IMAGINE HEAVEN by John Burke has become my favorite book since Don went to heaven. Don and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know John and your family when we sat together at CJ & Lauren’s reception. You will be in my thoughts and prayers. May God fill you with His comfort and peace continually, and may His unconditional love be magnified in the lives of those around you as you share the hope we have in Him during this time of grieving. Hugs and sympathy, Sharon

    • He had health issues, but the actual death was unexpected. I’ll have to look into that book. thank you for that and your reassuring words.

  5. This was so nice. A perfect tribute to a man who was truly admired and loved. My heart goes out to you and the family. But what wonderful memories you all have.

    • Thank you, Darlene. And you are right — so many amazing memories. I am very grateful.

  6. I read this last night, what a wonderful tribute to you both. Thank you for sharing this year. May memories comfort and God grant you peace and the love of family and friends wrap itself around you. Michele

    • Right?!?! It was such a gift to meet the neighbors. And it’s so nice knowing they are there for her — for anything she needs. I think she deserves it because she’s amazing, too.

  7. Beautiful post in honour of a beautiful man, well described, Chrissie – from your posts and your Aunt Anne’s, I feel like I knew him – and I so wish I had! My sincere condolences on his passing.

  8. Such a beautiful post! Pete and I loved John so much!! His train stories, his love of puns, his friendly arguments with Pete, his love of music and just the amazing hospitality he and Anne showed whenever Pete and I came for a visit … he was a special person.

  9. Debi send me the link last night, and I’m reading this for the first time — it’s beautifully written and really conveys the spirit of the guy as I knew him.

    Springfield is on one of the main routes from Chicago to St. Louis, so we get a lot of rail traffic coming through. Every time I hear a diesel horn in the distance now, I think of John. I suspect that’s the way he’d want to be remembered.

    • Thank you for writing this. Love the train horn reminders and totally agree. I do think that is how he would want to be remembered.

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