Updated: May 27
When considering the gifts of our Root Center, we reflect on those in our tribal family that made a difference in how we viewed life and what traits we valued as we grew up. In the midst of all of our family members, one man taught me how life should be lived. That was my uncle Einar, my mother’s brother.
When I was born, my uncle Einar gave me two hard-bound fairy-tale books. One was the works of the Brothers Grimm. The other was the works of Hans Christian Anderson. The artistry within the cover was extraordinary, I didn’t realize that until I was an adult. Inside the cover was written in a beautiful handwritten script: “To Cheryl Janne From Uncle Einar.”
I loved going to my uncle’s home because I could feel his happiness when I bounced through the door. I loved his jokes and his vibrant energy that boosted mine as we chattered away. Since I was the mischievous child of the family, he kept a wary eye on me, but always with a small smile. He got me. He liked my moxie.
Uncle Einar was a handsome Dane, with a loud, delighted laugh, and a heart that enfolded all. He cross propagated daffodils and left buckets outside his yard for people to collect as they were passing by. His “fence” was a massive accumulation of Rhododendrons that bloomed each spring in wild abandon. He carved sculptures out of collected wood, and he donated them to the Danish Brotherhood to sell at the town’s Scandinavian Festival each year. He also built drift boats for use by many who wanted to float the Willamette River.
In my adult years, Uncle Einar was still my pal. We made each other laugh, we talked about our hearts, and we rolled up our sleeves to do good things together. One of those was commemorating the Danish Cemetery in Junction City as a historic cemetery. Another was sharing our writing with each other so that we could talk of why we wrote the piece we sent, how it felt, what the writing did for our sense of satisfaction.
When I was waiting for Einar to show up to a meet up one time, I was able to watch him spring from his car with an agility that I coveted. He looked about 40 years old. He was 85. And still an amazingly handsome man.
One time when I called, he ran to the phone huffing and puffing because he had been trimming those massive rhodies of his in the heat of the sun. I told him that he needed to stop pushing himself and relax. He was 87. He responded “if I stop working, I’ll get old.” The next year he was admonished by his sons to stop climbing the ladder to the top of his barn. He had fallen, but had no injuries.
Uncle Einar taught me that a zest for life is worth any tonic sold on cable television for healthy and vibrant aging. I think it was his deep belly laugh that cleaned out any sludge that could hold him back.
I told him everything. He always responded with a sentence that was empathetic and loving. His heart was as wide as the world. I rested in knowing that he was there.
We were preparing to drive to Eugene for Einar’s 90th birthday when we got the call. Einar was in the hospital, and as agreed, was not receiving any life-sustaining efforts. That amazing, wonderful man died on his terms, just as he had lived his life. His last words to his wife were “Marilyn, I get to go see Jesus!” He left with no regrets, only the gratitude for the life that he loved and lived well.
My broken heart did not know what to do without my calls to Einar. I had one saved message from him on my old cell phone: “Hey Cheryl, this is . . . uh . . . (loud laugh) . . . Uncle Einar . . . I did remember . . . (loud laugh) . . . Hey! . . . ” and he left his message. I listened to hear his laugh. It filled my soul with that familiar joy. But eventually the cell phone died, and Uncle Einar was gone.
Last week, in a desperate attempt to deal with a spout of COVID-19 boredom, I deep cleaned a room, complete with washing and organizing all the shelves. I found a book Einar wrote called My Life On Dane Lane, with a picture on the front of this handsome boy who grew up to be my beloved uncle.
I opened the inside cover and there was one inscription:
“To Cheryl, I hope your uncle’s book gives you a fraction of the pleasure that my funny niece has given me. With much love, Einar.”
Loosely inserted on a separate piece of notepaper was another:
“Dear Cheryl, I suppose you greeted this with a huff and a loud ‘its about time.’ Well, I just assumed that we would bump into each other someday and then I would hand you my book. ‘Bumps’ just don’t seem to happen but then at my age perhaps they occurred and I just didn’t notice. Still love you a bunch and am looking forward to a future bump. Uncle Einar.”
I shed some tears of gratitude for finding this book from a man who left me six years ago, and who still lives in my heart.
Within that same week, I talked to his wife, my Aunt Marilyn, and I learned that she had found her copy of the book on the same day. We reveled over the phone about his specialness, his wholehearted life, and we swam in each other’s joy of knowing him. I felt filled with his essence.
The next day, I woke up and thought of Einar and sent up a grateful prayer for all that he was, and what he gave me. I heard something in my ear that said, “Your soul is filled with stars.”
I’m unsure where those words were from, but I’m positive they didn’t come from me. When the love is there, it is infinite. Thank you, Einar, for that bump.
What is clear to me now is that there are pieces of Einar in me. His influence shows through in my own hearty laugh. I share his incessant need to write and capture history and stories for the use of descendants. He loved the beauty of backroads, and so do I. He was filled with vitality and excitement until the day he went into his final bed. I plan to do that too. He lives on in his sons, and I plan to copy his life plan for as long as I am able.
The rich blessings of our lineage and of the earth energy of the Root Center shows up in so many wonderful ways. In this case, I am awash in the joy of my Uncle Einar. I am sure he will bump me again. I’m looking forward to it.