A couple of weeks ago I attended the celebration of life ceremony for my uncle. He was my mother’s last living brother. It was 14 of them in total, 6 boys and 8 girls. Now there are only 5 girls left. My uncle’s name was Spencer Lake, but everyone called him Bill. I have no clue why. Actually, several of my aunts and uncles had nicknames. Uncle Bud’s real name was Roosevelt. Uncle Baybrother’s real name was Welton. Aunt Sis’s real name was Evella. Aunt Baybelle’s real name was Laura. That’s just what southern folk tended to do – give each other nicknames. It wasn’t until I was in my late teen years that I actually learned their real names.

It occurred to me on the 16 and a half hour ride back to Maryland from Mississippi (that’s a blog for another day) that nicknames are fun. I can only imagine growing up in Mississippi in the 1930’s and 40’s had to come with a lot of not fun times so you had to make fun where you could. Why not have fun with names. I’m sure some of my aunts and uncles names have some funny story of why they were called that, that has been forgotten over the decades.

This habit of using nicknames just about died out with my mother’s generation, but Uncle Bill kept it going strong in his family. He had three daughters. Regeina who we always called Rita, Cynthia who we always called Cindy, and Spenlinda who we always called Shawn. And of course there was his wife, Gertrude, who we called Aunt Gert but he always affectionately called Baby. Uncle Bill even gave me a nickname. Every time he saw me, he would call me Don-Don.

In order to live life to its fullest, you have to not only work hard, but play hard too. Uncle Bill did that. He worked hard providing for his family, he served his country in the military, and he served his church as deacon. But he also knew how to play hard. He ate what tasted good to him, to the dismay of his daughter Rita. He loved sitting in his favorite chair watching TV, and he loved spending time with family and friends.

It was rare that a day went by that Uncle Bill didn’t talk on the phone to his sisters. They were always on the phone checking in with each other. I remember my mother’s last conversation with him. We were out of town getting ready to hop on a cruise ship for vacation. He was in the hospital but expected to go home in a day or two. We unplugged from life for 4 days and when we plugged back in we received the news that he had taken a turn for the worse. Before my mother got home, Uncle Bill had gone home to be with the Lord.

Hug your loved ones every chance you get. Call and talk, even if it’s just about the weather. Let them know you care. Let them know they are loved. Yes, life is busy. Work hard, but make time to play hard and love even harder.