Uncle JC was my childhood hero. He was a “real” cowboy. He was a rancher, he owned umpteen head of cattle, a working ranch in the Nebraska Sand Hills near Scottsbluff, and he rode horses on a regular basis. Grandpa McKnight was also a rancher. He and Grandma lived in an old sod house on their ranch about 5 miles away from Uncle JC’s place. By the time I met them, Grandpa was too old (in my mind) to be a cowboy, he was Grandpa. But Uncle JC was the real deal. Hat always worn at a jaunty tilt, a thin, debonair mustache, piercing blue eyes set in an olive complexion, a ready laugh and a persistent smile, he was always eager for a story or a joke – telling or hearing.
I can still hear him laughing as I tried to swallow a raw egg. I must have been 7 or 8, and it was one of those special summers in my life when we went to Nebraska to see our cousins and family on Mom’s side. While I was napping, my two older brothers and my two older cousins had won their bucks from Uncle JC by downing a raw egg, straight from the shell, and I was eager to earn my dollar. Since I was younger, Uncle JC felt some sympathy, so he cracked my egg into a jelly jar for me, and cautioned me not to break the yolk. By my count, I swallowed that egg at least five times, but the terms of the deal was keeping the egg down – and I couldn’t. It never hit my stomach, about ½ way down the gullet it would reverse direction and the next thing I knew, it was sitting there in the jelly jar as smug as you please. I didn’t get my dollar that afternoon, but Uncle JC gave me fifty cents for the entertainment.
But that’s not what this story is about. This story is about September 15th of this year – or, more accurately, it is about what I hope will occur on that day.
A couple of years ago I decided to take Uncle Don, a die-hard Husker, to a Nebraska game. He loved football and followed the Huskers religiously, but had never been to a Husker game. The husband of Mom’s sister, he and Aunt Wanda lived in Scottsbluff, NE near where my mom grew up. Uncle Don suffered from a lung disease, and didn’t have too many years left. Uncle JC, and his wife, Auntie Marie, accepted my invitation to go along with us. I made the arrangements – the Huskers played at home during an Oregon State bye, found a source for tickets, and made reservations in Linclon using my hotel points. We were all ready to go.
I would fly into Denver, rent a car and drive to Scottsbluff on Thursday night. Friday morning we would all get into Uncle JC’s new Cadillac and drive to Lincoln. My uncles, both WWII era Army vets, were interested in going to the American Legion state headquarters in Lincoln, so we were set for more than a football game, it would be an EVENT! I was eager to finally see a Nebraska football game, but even more I was looking forward to seeing Uncle Don’s face as he walked into the stadium, and when he saw his beloved Huskers run out onto the field. Sadly, a few weeks before the anticipated day, Uncle Don took a turn for the worse, and he was unable to travel. I didn’t want to go to the game without Uncle Don, leaving him home while we did something he had dreamed of for decades – so Uncle JC and I agreed to cancel the trip. Uncle Don never got better, He died later that year.
Last fall the love of Uncle JC’s life, Aunt Marie, passed away. Not wanting any more opportunities to disappear, I asked Uncle JC go to Lincoln with me for the Iowa game on Friday, November 25th. But once again, life and circumstances interfered, and I was unable to go to that game. I called with my regrets, and promised to set up our date for 2012.
I can’t wait to go with Uncle JC to Lincoln, riding in his Cadillac with Auntie Marie’s memory with us, and walking into Memorial Stadium sensing Uncle Don between us and watching his delight in our minds’ eyes as he sees his Huskers run out onto the field amidst a sea of screaming, waving red – Big Red.