My Favorite Uncle Harry

Uncle HarryFamily BandWhen I first discovered at age 8 I had an Uncle Harry, my Mom told me Harry Gosling was my uncle by marriage, because he had married Aunt Ruth. Aunt Ruth was  Mom’s youngest sister, and the reason I didn’t know them very well was they lived in St. Louis, Missouri which seemed like worlds away to me. Initially the thing which fascinated me about Uncle Harry was he played trumpet in Lawrence Welk’s band at the time the band began increasing in popularity nation-wide. When the band began travelling extensively, Uncle Harry and Aunt Ruth made the decision to move from Chicago to St. Louis so they might have more stability in raising their children. I always respected their decision because in some respects Uncle Harry subjugated his musical career for the sake of becoming a better father. He maintained his musical skills by forming a band of his own in St. Louis which played for hire on many week-ends.

When Uncle Harry, Aunt Ruth and their two children Paula and Phil would come to El Dorado for a visit, there was something exciting for everyone. I enjoyed playing games with Paula and Phil even though they were younger. I know they loved swapping the hustle and bustle of St. Louis for the rural life in El Dorado, at least for a few days of biking and outdoor play. Uncle Harry always brought his golf clubs and would join Mom and me for a round or two of golf. He had a funny game he taught us called “Bingle, Bangle, Bingle,” and I have no idea of the origin of that term. It was simply; first on the green, closest to the hole and first in the cup. As I matured and my game improved, I could  win 1 or 2 of  those “bingles” on each hole since Uncle Harry was not a very good golfer, even though he loved to play.

As my sister Marilyn and I grew older, another exciting thing we anticipated was a jam session with Uncle Harry. He always brought his trumpet which was a gorgeous instrument in an expensive case, and we would gather around the piano. Marilyn was a gifted pianist who could sight-read most any song. I played guitar, but my skill on that instrument limited our repertoire to 8 or 10 songs. I have to say there were a couple of songs we did very well and would get the most applause from our audience of family and whatever friends were present. My particular favorite was “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey?” We have a few photographs of our jam sessions, and only wish we had the foresight to make a home movie of one of them. As our children matured, Mary Kay would join us playing her flute, and we made some pretty good sounds together. Occasionally we could get the entire family involved with Cathy playing the “gut-bucket” bass and John Aaron and Ginny on the kazoo and tambourines. It was not Lawrence Welk quality music, but we had lots of fun and laughter with our home-spun band.

Uncle Harry is the one who introduced us to Branson, Missouri. In the early 1970’s when Cathy and I had moved back to El Dorado to raise our family, we wanted to vacation with Uncle Harry and Aunt Ruth as often as possible but the distance to St. Louis was a deterrent. Uncle Harry said his band played once a year in Branson at The Rock Lane Lodge which would be about half-way for each of us. After meeting there several times we fell in love with Branson, not knowing 35 years later we would move to that relatively small town. By the late 1990’s, Mary Kay and her husband Dave had moved to Branson to work for Kids Across America a Christian sports camp for inner city kids. We occasionally visited them when we lived in El Dorado, but when Cathy and I moved to Fayetteville in 2000, our trips to Branson became more frequent since it was an easy 2 hours drive away. When we did make our move to Branson in 2005, Uncle Harry had already departed this life.

In the early 1980’s, I received a phone call from Aunt Ruth in which she had a number of medical questions concerning Uncle Harry. He had been having some unusual symptoms affecting his trumpet playing and following extensive testing, he was diagnosed with ALS also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Most of her questions related to his prognosis I could not answer, because at that time his disease was in the early stages.

Within a month or two of that phone call they made a trip to El Dorado for a week-long visit, and we were very excited to spend the time with them. Physically I could not detect much disability, but he said his stamina was markedly diminished and golfing together was not an option.

On the second day of their visit Cathy, Mom and Aunt Ruth wanted to go shopping following breakfast, and Uncle Harry and I were simply going to take a ride in my car around the area. We decided to have some coffee instead at Mom’s house where they were staying. As we were talking, I said to him, “Uncle Harry, you know I have loved you like a father especially since Pop died, and I want the very best for you. If something were to happen to you are you certain you will go to heaven?” He was a little taken back by the question, but said he was not certain and would like to know how he could know for sure. After showing him from the Bible what he must do we both got on our knees there in Mom’s kitchen, and Uncle Harry prayed the sweetest prayer of repentance, and he was born into the Kingdom. We were both weeping, and I hugged him and told him again how much I loved him, and how proud I was that he was now a new creation in Christ. When Cathy, Mom and Aunt Ruth returned from their shopping, there was another celebration!

At the time, I was a teacher in a unique Sunday school class at First Baptist Church which was broadcast to shut-ins via a conference call every Sunday morning at 9:30 AM. We added Uncle Harry to our list, so he was able to be part of that class for the remainder of his life. The other folks on the conference call quickly learned to recognize Uncle Harry’s voice, and they would speak among themselves asking how each one was doing. That became a little bit of a problem since their conversation with each other would take away from our teaching time. It all worked out and that particular ministry paid great dividends, especially for Uncle Harry’s sake.

All of my remembrances of Uncle Harry are good ones. I am sorrowful that Cathy and I were not able to minister to him in the final weeks and days of his life here, but I have this confidence; we will see him again.The next time we will all be in glorified bodies, and his body that was ravished by ALS, will be strong and whole. His trumpet playing will be perfect and what glorious sounds he will make! All his tunes will be praise songs to the One who made it all possible and to Whom all praise is due. I believe the rest of our family band will also be joining in with much sweeter sounds than ever before!

Dr. John