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Smith Says

SMITH: Uncle Joe's funeral a reminder of full life

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As we all know by now, I’m a list-maker. Shopping, errands, budget—I’ve got more lists than Carter’s has little pills.

A couple years ago, I added a new entry in the household budget: Flowers. As in, funerals. We actually send plants instead of cut flowers (the living/dying thing), and do it so often it’s factored into our spending, like groceries and gas.

Widdle and I are past the era where friends’ grandparents die. Now it’s their parents, siblings and—God forbid—sometimes children. We’d send cards, take food, go to funerals. (Widdle is so loyal, he went to the sittin’-up--that’s a wake, for any non-Southerners--for the woman who taught him Sunday school 55 years ago.)

COVID, of course, changed everything, so now we mostly send plants. The one I sent to Wilmington, North Carolina on January 4th hit me pretty hard. It was for my Uncle Joe, my mother’s brother, who died at 90 after a full and joyous life.

He was olive-skinned, of medium height, with black hair and brown eyes. He joined the military when he was 17, to escape poverty and see the world. He and Aunt Lois married young and had three kids, Billy, Danny and Patti. (This is how country my family is and always will be: When I called Patti last week I said, “Hey, Cousin Patti, it’s Cousin Julie,” and she said, “Hey, Cousin Julie, I’m sitting here with Cousin Billy.”)

You hear about people who never met a stranger, but Uncle Joe was the real deal. He loved people of every class, color and background. He also loved to cook and entertain—and if he didn’t know some of the guests, that was fine. He’d feed ‘em anyway. Every day was a party for this guy, who wore Hawaiian shirts and baseball caps with fake ponytails.

When Uncle Joe and Aunt Lois divorced, he married Doris and inherited three step-sons. He and Aunt Doris had 47 years together, and their house in Chanel Haven was always hopping. Their Christmas Eve parties were legendary.

If Uncle Joe’s church needed money for something, he’d volunteer to hold a fish fry, and the cash rolled in.

He also coached his children’s sports teams and was a surrogate father to a couple of kids.

Some info from Uncle Joe’s obit: “He served in the National Guard, Navy, Army and Army Reserve, retiring with the rank of Lt. Col. He graduated from the U.S. Army Staff College in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. He worked at Babcock & Wilcox and General Electric. He was a member of Harbor United Methodist Church, American Legion Post #10, and the BPOE Elks Club.

“Joe was a friend to many, and was loved and admired by his family and many friends.”

If Uncle Joe wasn’t working, he was either in front of the stove or in his boat. His backyard was on the IntraCoastal Waterway, and he loved fishing, shrimping, oyster harvesting and gigging flounder.

His dock—with lights, benches and a cleaning table—was the scene of many an impromptu party. The only bad part was, the backyard angled sharply down from the house to the dock; if you walked out the sliding glass door and didn’t look sharp, you’d tumble downhill. Ask me how I know.

In his later years Uncle Joe really got into genealogy and announced, at my brother T-Bob’s wedding, that our clan descended from Blackbeard the Pirate and the first governor of North Carolina. He was much more excited about Blackbeard.

Godspeed, Uncle Joe. Party on.

Julie R. Smith, who also likes Hawaiian shirts, can be reached at