Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Accepted as Part of the Family

I don’t know when the boys had lost touch with their mother’s family. Roland supposedly had her number on file, and the boys would constantly ask, “When can we see Aunt Judy again?”

I figured it should be up to Roland to provide the number, put in the phone call, make an effort to get in touch. It took me two years to realize that if the boys were going to get in touch with Aunt Judy, they would have to come up with another source.

I knew we wouldn’t find her under her maiden name and asked them one night to provide me with the first and last name of her husband and then we would look her up. I was surprised that there was only one Van Ball in Layton. I called Judy and introduced myself and learned that her father’s funeral had taken place only three days prior. She took down our name and address and sent out three programs (one for each boy). Even though the family had been out of touch, the three missing grandsons had still been named as honorary pallbearers.

Aunt Judy said that the family did an annual barbeque each year and would call us back with the details. It was the first time I had met the Walden family. What a great bunch of hospitable people! It was fascinating being in their presence.

At that time eight of Roland’s late wife’s sibs were living. Not all of them made it to the barbeque. I think that there were six or seven families there – or a few members from each family anyway. All of them are scattered in Wyoming and Northern Utah.

The boys were treated like celebrities. Well, I guess we all were. Aunt Judy took a million pictures! Not just of our family, but each family. And then all the kids. And then all the adults. And Roland and I had been asked to join in the adult picture – though neither one of us are Waldens. Okay, he had married Deborah Walden and would still be married to her if she had not passed away.

I was so impressed with how they embraced and accepted me and Jenna and made me feel like we had belonged to them for decades.

After that Aunt Judy always sent presents to Jenna for Christmas and her birthday. I thought that was so wonderful of her to accept Jenna and dote over her – even more so than she had with the boys.

The boys were actually able to see their maternal grandmother a few times before she passed. We didn’t make it to the funeral as we had gone to Roland’s Uncle Mike’s just the week before. Driving to Arizona in January wasn’t actually a big deal. Driving north to Wyoming seemed like it would be quite a treacherous journey that particular year. We prayed for the family's safety.

Though we did not make it to grandma’s funeral, we did attend funerals and weddings of other family members. Deborah’s oldest brother’s only daughter got married. I took Jenna to the luncheon that none of the rest of my family was able to attend. Later her mom passed away. I think all six of us went to that funeral. Or perhaps Randy and Tony were both out of the country at the time. I don't remember all the details.

We attended the wedding reception of Uncle Joey’s oldest. Roland told me that he and Deborah had each of their children within a few months of Joey and his wife. Joey and his wife came to the wedding receptions of all three of my boys. Joey, from what I understood was the most social of all the Walden children.

One of Deborah’s older sisters, Sandy had had cancer in addition to some other health problems. It actually didn’t come as a huge surprise to hear about her passing. I took Jenna to Aunt Sandy’s funeral. None of the men in my family were able to take the time off and Roland had asked if I would represent the family.

The latest death was a shock to everyone.. Joey Walden is a wrestling coach during the school year and a fisherman in the summer. He was on a commercial fishing boat in Alaska. He had told his comrades that he hadn't felt well and went to lie down for a while. A half hour passed when a member of the team went to wake him so that he could assist in pulling the nets. It was discovered that Joey had passed away in his sleep. 

They don't know the cause even though there was an autopsy. Today he will be buried in Wyoming. Joey is just a year younger than I am – and I would guess in much better shape.

We'd gone to the funeral yesterday. Pretty nice services. The boys' uncle was very well loved! There was a massive line for the viewing, and overflow into the cultural hall clear back to the stage. And that was just the people who were able to make it. I'm certain that there were twice as many not able to make it because of work or being out of town.

An angel sang "Be Still My Soul". Before the funeral services had even started, we heard her practicing. I cried both times. It was so awesomely beautiful.

The closing hymn was “Each Life That Touches Ours for Good” which is a sign to us all that Joey did just that. But he is on the other side now, having a reunion with two brothers, two sisters, mom and dad and countless others. Maybe meeting my family as well.

It was a wonderful service. He was an outstanding individual. I would imagine he still is.

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