27th May, 2007 

Dear Jonathan, Andrew & Parker,

Today, May 27th, is the 55th birthday of my Uncle Ron, a younger brother of my mother, your Grandma Diana. Uncle Ron would be your great-uncle… and what a great uncle he was to me, and to your own parents. As I often do to commemorate beloved family members on their birthdays, such as Grandma Diana’s parents and grandparents, I lit a candle by his photograph which I keep by my bed.

Grandpa Leroy, Darin, Ron, Tommy – 1965.

When I was born in 1964, Ronald Dean Barmes, named in honor of his mother’s brother, Ronald, was only 12 years old, and in many ways, he and Uncle Tom, then 10, were like my older brothers. I was fortunate to have young grandparents as well, for Grandma Donna was 40, and Grandpa Leroy was 42 (ugh, the age I am now!). In some ways, it was much like having a second family who lived around the corner from where I grew up on the corner of 9th and Main streets in Elwood, Indiana. I do remember wondering why Ron and Tom called my Mamaw and Papaw, “Mom” and “Dad.” 

Despite the age difference, they spent a great deal of time with me: taking me to baseball practices (and teaching me naughty words which I repeated with great delight), riding me around on their bikes, playing games and baseball with me, and taking me to the pool. Uncle Ron had a Volkswagen with an 8-Track tape player, and we would ride around town listening to the recording, JESUS CHRIST, SUPERSTAR. Good stuff.

Uncle Tom, Uncle Ron, Darin, Mother, Great-Grandpa Garrett – Ron’s graduation from high school, May 27, 1970

Some of my favorite memories are of the times – which was quite often – I spent the night with them. Their bedroom was a magical teen wonderland for the little tyke surrounded by Fischer-Price items at his “other home” around the corner. We would listen to record albums of Bill Cosby, the Smothers Brothers, and (gulp) Cheech & Chong. They had a television in their bedroom and we often watched “The Smothers Brothers’ Hour” and all the top shows of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. What fun we had, and what a rich experience I had over other children my age.

Uncle Ron joined the US Navy in 1972, and was stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. I remember a trip that summer when my mother was pregnant for Dena. What a new adventure the Navy was for a boy ready to turn eight years old.

Dena, Uncle Ron, Destin, Darin – May 1975.

After leaving the Great Lakes, he was stationed on the East Coast, for a while in New Jersey, but mostly in Norfolk, Virginia. The long naval piers, the air craft carriers, the uniforms, the salutes… all wonderful, vivid memories! My trips to Virginia are still some of my most treasured mental videos I possess.

Uncle Ron got to see the world – South America, the Mediterranean, the North Sea – and he always shared these far away lands with, at that time, his only nephew. He returned with the neatest gifts, many of which I still have. Throughout the years, I received three pocket watches from Uncle Ron, and one day, each of you, my first three nephews, will receive these watches… perhaps one day, you may wish to pass these on to one of your own nephews.

April 1974, we were visiting Uncle Ron in Norfolk, and I spied a huge book in the Military Circle Shopping Mall’s bookstore – Carl Sandburg’s LINCOLN: THE PRAIRIE YEARS & THE WAR YEARS. It was $15, and a large sum for a 9 year old boy. I saved up my money the next few months, hoping to buy the book when I returned to Virginia with Grandpa Leroy and Grandma Donna that July. Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle Ron and I went to the mall, and the book was still there. I bought the book, and that night in the hotel room, Uncle Ron and I laid on one bed looking through all the pictures in the Lincoln book.

Several days later, it was time to leave Uncle Ron at the pier. I always hated “good byes” with Uncle Ron, and to this day, I still get choked up at airports. I can still remember Dena running after him, screaming and crying as he would turn to walk towards the plane. That July night in 1974, we watched Uncle Ron walk down the long pier. Grandpa, in tears, wanted to drive on, but Grandma Donna said, “Let’s wait until we cannot see him any more.”

I buried my face in my Lincoln book to keep from crying. I could not watch him walk away. In the front cover of the book was an envelope with my name on it. I opened the envelope and read a note: “Darin, I am so proud of you for saving your money to buy something of great value when other boys your age would spend their money on candy or toys. You are a wise young man and I am proud of my nephew. Love, Uncle Ron.”

And inside the note was a $20 bill. The Sandburg book is still one of my prized posessions, along with the bust of Lincoln he gave me in 1973.

When I began piano lessons, the first sheet music I purchased was “Anchors, Aweigh” and I could not wait to play it for Ron when he came home that Christmas.

During those rare visits home, Uncle Ron always seemed to have plenty of time for me, as well as Dena, and Destin, who arrived in November, 1974. Those visits with Uncle Ron were always special, and I feel the excitement he must have felt when my own nephews anticipate my own visits to Indiana.

Uncle Ron married in 1976, and eventually, he became a daddy to Alicia and Amanda, who are now mommies themselves.

 

Uncle Tom, Mother, Uncle Ron – May 1976.

In 1987, I returned from Austria and Switzerland to learn that Uncle Ron had been killed in a car wreck on June 8th. Ironically, the uncle for which he was named died 50 years to the month before his namesake. I don’t think any death has been harder for me to deal with than his. Although I miss Grandma Donna and Grandpa Leroy deeply, not having Uncle Ron around for family events is a little harder. To this day, the tune, “Anchors, Aweigh” is the most unbearable melody for me to hear.

Fortunately, June 8th has lost some of the sadness, and gained a tremendous blast of happiness. On June 8th, 2005, Parker Leroy Haas was born. Out of the dark came some light… 

The spring of 1997, I learned I was to be an uncle when Dena called to tell me she was pregnant. Several nights later, I had a dream. I was riding my bike in a nearby Ohio town, Waynesville, and I stopped to rest on a park bench. Uncle Ron appeared, and sat down by me. He was thrilled that I was to be an uncle, and he told me that being an uncle was quite a responsibility, but one of great joy. Uncle Ron reminded me that like him, I was to do special things, give unique gifts, and keep the joy of learning alive in my nieces and nephews. We talked while walking past the antique shops of Waynesville. I went into a shop to check on an item, leaving my bike with Uncle Ron outside. When I returned, he was gone.

When I woke from the dream, I realized that the mantel of being “the uncle” had passed on to me.

For nearly ten years, I have loved, with all my heart, being an uncle. In some ways, when I am with each of you, I can see Uncle Ron coming through my playfulness and teasing, but I have also adopted my own special touch; however, he had laid the foundation of “unclehood.”

Soon, the three of you – my darling nephews Jonathan, Andrew & Parker – will be joined by my new nephew or niece, and Parker, like Jonathan, and myself, will be a big brother. This will be exciting for us all!

Although I am truly your uncle, there are a number of our family friends whose children refer to me as “Uncle Darin.” To me, being an uncle, whether to the three of you, or family friends, is quite an honor, and quite legacy for me to follow.

One day, I hope that each of you will become uncles – if not to siblings, to friends of your own family. Right now, Uncle Destin and I have the wonderful roll of being “the uncles” and you can be assured we will do it with great care, great devotion, and great love – and of course, you can always count on great fun and laughter – that too, is a part of our legacy.

But to my darling nephews, I feel blessed to be your uncle, and pray that we shall always have that unique special relationship I experienced with my Uncle Ron. One day, it will be my turn to take the walk down that long pier. It will then be up to each of you to be “the uncle.” And I know that you will take on this responsibility with great care, great devotion, great love – but most especially, with great fun and laughter.

With my deepest love and devotion,

Uncle Darin

Advertisements