On the death of my great uncle

“Hello cousin Brad. Just letting you know that Dad died this morning. The last of that group of Bakers. Glad you got to visit. Love Connie.”

The Bakers 2

Visiting Herbert and my cousins in Oregon in August 2013.

I received the text at 9:33 pm last night as my wife and I sat on the couch watching television. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to think in that moment. I’d finally made my way to Oregon in August to meet Herbert, and we’d had a nice visit.

He was still pretty sharp, but it was clear he’d made his peace with the world. “I keep trying to go, Brad, but they won’t take me.”

While there’s much to tell about Herbert, the really good stories will get told in the book. For now, I wanted to share this tidbit because it represents a fundamentally important idea that Herbert and his brothers shared.

In the days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Herbert and his brothers signed up for military service. This included Robert Lee, who was only 16 at the time. For whatever trouble the Bakers stirred up with the government throughout the years, they had long prided themselves on military service. When their country called, they answered.

His mother, my great-great grandmother, would eventually receive a congressional citation since she had 6 boys in the service.

When I shared phone calls with Herbert a few years ago, he happily told me stories of his time in the service. What made his service distinct: He fought the Japanese in the Aleutian Islands, the only battle ever waged by foreign troops on U.S. soil.

As I re-read the text Connie sent me last night, I couldn’t help but think how much time I’d let lapse between calls. I’ve been scrambling to finish the final edits for Dungeons & Dreamers, the oft-delayed second edition of a book about virtual worlds. I kept telling myself as soon as I was finished with that, I’d get back to working full time on So Far Appalachia.

Days turned into weeks turned into a month, and without realizing it time had slipped away.

Now another small part of my family’s history has blinked out, a reminder that everything changes and the world moves forward relentlessly.

All that remains are the stories.