Remembering Uncle ’Lois
In a world that wasn’t always friendly, he taught us to live in peace
Uncle ’Lois, who worked on Butte College’s maintenance staff, embodied the qualities of hard work, financial responsibility, devotion to God, family and community, and generosity.
He was renowned throughout Butte County for his amazing secret barbecue recipe. Though I am not a huge fan of barbecue, I enjoyed anything my Uncle ’Lois put his hands to. I liked watching my uncle in his practical “hobbies,” including barbecuing, cleaning and skinning fish and occasionally small game, as well as gardening and working on cars.
One of my fondest childhood memories is of getting ready for church and being allowed to run down to Uncle ’Lois’ house to watch him put the finishing touches on his immaculate Sunday attire, which always included a perfectly fitted navy or black suit.
This large, strong black man, who during the week wore either coveralls or overalls and hard-toe shoes, and had tough yet well-groomed hands and fingers, transformed before my adoring eyes.
He would always lovingly and approvingly greet me with a cheerful, “Hey, there, ’Necia! How ’ya doin’ this morning?” I’d respond with a big grin on my face, because I always felt happy around him. Sometimes he’d be putting the final shine on his perfectly polished, black-leather shoes or affixing shining cufflinks and a tie clip.
As I peered in through the bedroom doorway from a tiny living room that also served as “grand central” for countless relatives on holidays and special occasions, I inhaled the aroma of freshly bathed cleanliness and Old English aftershave. I loved it when I timed my visit so I could actually watch Uncle ’Lois slap on the aftershave, which signaled the finale of his Sunday morning ritual.
He was then off to his post as deacon of the AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church on East Ninth Street several blocks from his home. It is Chico’s oldest church, a recognized state historic landmark, and the first church I have a memory of being in as a toddler.
Uncle ’Lois often kept hard candy in his trousers pocket to hand to young children who excitedly ran to greet him before or after services. No matter what the previous week had dealt him, Sunday was his day to give to “the Lord,” and he did so by giving his heart, warmth, smiles, and words of encouragement to anybody he came into contact with.
He let me know that I was somebody, no matter what challenges my young-adult life had brought. Surely, he would have given you the same sense of self-assuredness that ultimately makes you stand a little straighter and lift your head a little higher.
I was in my early 30s when Uncle ’Lois made his departure. Just a few weeks before his passing, I became aware that he was unable to give to me and my children the kind of warm and cheerful welcome I had always been sure to get from him. The pain of his dying was too much, and all he could do was turn away at times, so as not to appear gruff.
Within a matter of weeks he was gone. I felt lost. I still feel lost, in a sense, because there was no other relative who gave me the kind of validation that let me know I was good enough exactly the way I was.
I feel a warmth inside being able to recall these tales of steadfastness, integrity, spirituality, loyalty and faith—even the faith that this world would be a better one for one’s children’s children and their children’s children, too.
The ability to live with a semblance of peace in a world that doesn’t always have that intent or purpose for us takes skill and intention.