Riding Off Into the Sunset: A Tribute to Uncle Pete

Yesterday, my Uncle Pete died.

He wasn’t technically my uncle. He was the husband of my grandmother’s cousin. But he’s always been Uncle Pete to me, despite his wife NOT being Aunt Mary Carol. When I was growing up, they frequently visited my grandparents (with whom I lived), and their visits were always full of excursions to Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, Cades Cove. Their visits were also full of card games and books.

They always brought a blizzard with them, and we’d end up snowed in for days. One of my favorite memories was waiting for the sun to break, for the snow and ice to melt so we could make it up the hill to get out of our driveway. We’d ride to town so Pete could refill the propane tank for his camper, and then we’d hit the mall. Uncle Pete would always pull out his folded up list of Louis L’amour westerns that Mary Carol had made for him, and he’d browse the Western section with care, making sure the books he wanted to buy weren’t ones he’d already read. And he’d always get me a book. Or two.

I loved how he and Mary Carol had a map of the U.S. on their camper, how over the years they colored in each state they’d visited, and yes, they managed to visit all 50 states in their retired years. I loved hearing stories of their travels. I’m still especially enamored of Uncle Pete getting “snockered” in Germany, but still managing to hold out against a German man who was determined to out-drink an American.

It’s been a long time since I’d seen Uncle Pete. Time, distance, and his health have all contributed to that. I’d known for a while that his health was failing, and had learned over the weekend that all treatment/medications had been stopped. I knew it was a matter of time.

I don’t regret that I didn’t get to see him in the end. I prefer the memories I have, seeing him in his element. I remember his big laughs, big smiles, and big hugs. I remember the smell of his aftershave, the way he’d relax into the recliner, feet propped up, the warmth of the yellow light shining on the pages of his latest paperback.

Wherever you are, Uncle Pete, may there be many books, many beers, and many, many adventures.

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