The surprise is…there is no surprise!
Ah, that one gets me every time. I remember the first time I heard it. My uncle Clarence (one of Dad’s brothers) was watching me and my brother Lucas for the afternoon, and we were out for a drive. Clarence told Lucas to behave, and if he did, there’d be a surprise for him later. Lucas was pretty well-behaved for the rest of the afternoon, as I recall, and when it came time to deliver on his promise, Clarence uttered that now-famous line. I thought it was so funny (and shocking) that it has stuck with me to this day, and I use it on my kids from time to time.
Clarence passed away on Sunday, and with his passing, the world got a little less funny. I hadn’t seen him for a few years, and before that, a handful of years had passed since we last spoke. And it’s not that I didn’t like him; quite the contrary, but I’ve always had trouble staying in touch with extended family, and that’s nobody’s fault but my own. Regardless of the recency of interaction, the memories I have of him from my years growing up were great. He taught me to ride a bike by taking me to the top of the hill behind my parents’ house and sending me down. I crashed head-first into a cinderblock wall. Looking back, it was pretty cool, and I survived, so no harm, no foul. He was, after all, a Lilly brother, and they were all a little crazy. That’s what I liked most about him. When my Dad was together with his brothers, it was an adventure every time. Some of my earliest memories of Clarence were of him and my Dad shooting their bows in the back yard. I remember he had a patch of ginseng on the mountain behind the house, and he’d go digging when he came to visit. And once, he sat at the table in a camper with my Dad, brother, and one of my cousins (as I recall), and too much weight on that end of the camper caused it to tip. Clarence had no idea what was going on, he just thought he was getting dizzy! Dad still laughs about that.
When my uncle Kenneth passed last December, Dad and Clarence became the only brothers left in the family, along with two sisters. Now that Clarence is gone, it’s just Dad and my two aunts. Through this, I can see my family heritage slowly slipping away, but I’m thankful for the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who have kept it strong. We’ve spread out across the country, but we’re all still from the same mold. It’s comforting to know that there are bits of these brothers and sisters in their descendants. And as long as that continues, these families will not have lost the great bond that the Lilly siblings have enjoyed for many years – the bond of love, friendship, and family.
Rest in peace, my friend. I’m better for having known you.