I’m not ready to go back. With a full house, I still feel the empty chair, the empty presence. I grew up in this house. It’s been renovated, the old appliances held on by a thread for years have finally been replaced, but the house remains mostly the same, both in terms of structure and in feeling. When I come home, and after 5 years living in Pittsburgh I do still consider it home, time hasn’t passed. I remember the dress up box, I remember plays and board games with my cousins, I remember holidays and candlelit dinners watching the fireplace. I remember laughing while trying to find a common key to sing in with the rest of the family, and it makes me sad now. It makes me sad because I thought there would be more, I wasn’t ready for things to change. I was home for a week and a half and the big house felt strange. Still familiar - I could tell you where to put the dishes away without looking at the kitchen; but I felt disoriented, as if I were constantly looking for something that I couldn’t quite place. I was missing a hearty laugh, a corny joke, an “I wasn’t sleeping, just resting my eyes.” I’m just not ready to go back.
What a rollercoaster of emotions this year, this past week, and certainly since we learned of Uncle John’s passing on Sunday, though the last official scorecard was recorded Tuesday. Having missed our families horribly through the year, the intensity of that emotion is never greater than right now. I am so impressed, though not surprised at how strong Aunt Beth and my cousins continue to be for one another, their family and friends. As I navigate ebbs and flows of tears and laughter, it’s impossible to not look at John’s life holistically and simply want to offer a standing ovation. He did it right, and as a new father, he will continue to stay closely with me as I figure out this parenting thing with our son, Tyler.
The traditions come to mind first and maybe hit hardest. It’s incredibly difficult to imagine Christmas and summer vacations without John at the helm, but I know we will carry on with him not too far away. I had daydreamed of John, Scott and Dad helping Ty learn the joys and other four letter words associated with golf, as they did with me at Fort Meade. In a recurring battle of ‘old guys’ vs. ‘young guys’ on the course, more lessons in humility were shared than I’d care to share. His enthusiasm and competitive spirit is infectious and lasting. And while it hasn’t produced a single digit handicap for me, I, like all members of this family, consider myself amongst the world’s elite in Yolf, Washers, Pro Kadima, Foxtail, etc. If unfamiliar with any, we can assure you it’s not worth the google search and simply trust that we take these matters very seriously.
My uncle taught me from a young age that weather is not an obstacle but rather, nature’s suggestion to simply move faster. As a kid, I believe it was a holiday weekend in OC, MD, we were caught up in a heated battle of Pro Kadima as a thunderstorm fast-approached. If more familiar with the term ‘paddle board,’ I will try to not cast judgement. It wasn’t until we saw each other’s hair raise from the imminent electrical storm that forced us indoors, to be continued of course. Or in more recent years, watching my uncle suggest to a local NC golf pro, that it was totally fine to let 3 out of state foursomes, ranging in ages 15 to 75 on the course during a torrential downpour – ‘course is closed’ obviously leaving some room for interpretation. And as I know John would agree, you haven’t really Yolf-ed unless it’s well below freezing and you’re swinging a plastic pseudo croquet mallet with all your might, while standing on a solid sheet of ice. Whether or not the intended target is positioned on a frozen pond or precariously close to an objet d’art is inconsequential (sorry Aunt Beth). I’m certain the makers of Yolf would be pleased to learn that a well-intended gag gift would blossom into a 30+ year Boxing Day tradition for this family, bringing curiosity and confusion to the neighborhoods and parks of NW DC. Sticking with this theme and continuing to look at old photos, I have trouble believing it was an accident that John lined up opposite his eldest grandson, Zach at an alpine slide in Steamboat a few years back. And I’d have to defer to David Harpool on any local lake ordinances regarding maximum boat speeds reached in an effort to send grandchildren into orbit off inflatable rafts. I cherish these times with John and our family, and promise to dive headfirst into similar adventures with Ty, carrying a ‘what would John do’ spirit.
As my cousin-brother (new term coined this week), Scott reminded me in an earlier post, at the age of 41, I have not been trusted near the grill on a family vacation ever without strict supervision and all the advice. I would take offense, if the same were not true for all the grill ‘masters’ in this family. If the 2 utensils you’re reaching for first in grill prep aren’t a stopwatch and a glass of wine, I’m afraid you’re doing it wrong; strategy, confidence, and if there’s a recipe, sure, bring that too. Another pro-tip learned from my uncle is that when deep frying a Turkey, make sure you use the precise amount of oil that’s displaced to keep family dogs also ‘thankful’ but not sick, with only minimal risk of explosion. And speaking of prep, Scott, we’ll have to set aside some time to dive into John’s NCAA pool spreadsheet formulas. As John showed us, the Cartland Bragging Rights pool is the most fun, despite being harder to comprehend or explain than the actual game of basketball. I will miss having my ‘strategy man’ uncle during these times.
From as early as I can remember, John and the Cartlands showed me the importance of expressing one’s thoughts and beliefs through healthy conversation, even debate, and at louder volumes when called for. Dinner table convos and family trips with all opinions welcomed, while not always agreed upon, is the example Jenna and I hope to build for our family, while always rooted in love and respect. John’s legacy through his kids and grandkids is monumental, an obvious bond shared and with individuality celebrated. Laura and I will always look to Amy, Scott and Jen as our cool older cousins and role models, with ‘cool’ notably carrying an evolving meaning J We all now look to John’s grandkids to learn how un-cool we’ve become. And while John and Dad may be in-laws by definition, they are brothers in the truest sense of camaraderie – a lesson in friendship over decades.
Jenna and I were blessed to spend our 2nd day married en route to our honeymoon with John and Beth, and many, many more, celebrating their 50th anniversary. With only 50 years to catch up, their union and partnership is one we will strive to model. I am grateful to have such incredible parents in this family to look to and learn from and am eternally thankful for all the love and laughs my Uncle John provided. While we will miss him dearly, the smiles easily trump the tears, thinking of all the fun stories and traditions we get to carry-on and share with his great-nephew, Ty. Love, prayers and good vibes to all!!
With all our love,
- Matt, Jenna & Tyler Stevens
Send me emails on supporting a friend in tough times through stories, articles, videos and more.