Around 4:30am today, this world lost my great Uncle Kent. He had been in hospice care in Iowa and was not living the life he loved to live. The tears I’ve shed in the last few days were truly for myself and for my family. I am grateful that he is out of pain and in heaven with his amazing wife, Lois, my grandfather (his older brother) and many other amazing and wonderful friends and family.
Uncle Kent was the second of only two sons. My grandfather was the older brother. I’ve read articles about the traits of siblings based on birth order. Uncle Kent was the classic younger sibling:
He was fun-loving. Man! Did he know how to have a good time. He was a sparkle. He was an excited clap. He was a lean back and laugh. He was a good story. He was there to get the party started, and he was there to finish it up. He made you feel good about being around him, and he made you feel good about yourself.
He was uncomplicated. He was who he was. You knew him right away, and you loved him from that very moment. He didn’t expect much. Just your happiness and honesty.
He was manipulative. (HEY! That’s not nice, Sarah) Let me explain. This is a trait of the younger sibling (I’m looking at you, Chris), and it’s one that can be used for good or bad. Charming Uncle Kent could get you to do anything. Luckily for the world, he used this gift for good. Like when he’d talk me into getting booze EVERY DAY for the mandatory family happy hour at the family reunions. Or when I was younger, he’d have me whisper something to Aunt Lois that would make her either laugh or yell at him…then he’d just sit back and laugh. He could get us to do about anything…but it was always in a way that made us enjoy life even more than we did moments before.
He was outgoing. I don’t think I need to go into this more than I already have, but I do want to share a story to explain this personality trait. Our family has held family reunions at beautiful Lake Okoboji, IA several times. In August, 2003, we were at a reunion at Crescent Beach Resort in Okoboji. The family had a pontoon boat rented for the week, and he decided to conduct happy hour out on the water. I stayed behind and was watching as he navigated the boat back toward the second dock (luckily, I was standing on the first dock). I was standing with my father as we watched Uncle Kent, wearing a captain’s hat, come in a bit too hot…
Sarah: Dad, he’s going to hit the dock. I bet you $10.
Dad: No he’s not. He knows what he’s doing.
(Ed hands Sarah a $10 bill and walks toward the beach. Sarah remains to watch half of the dock slowly sink into the lake)
Now…many people would freak out, panic and start to apologize. Not Uncle Kent. He marched up to the office, offered to buy the manager of the resort a meal, and charmed her into letting him pay for all damages without any further issue or complaint. Now that I’ve typed through that story, it appears he used all his “younger sibling” characteristics in this one great moment. Because of him, and because of this story, our family named our pontoon boat “Dockbuster”.
Until this last year, Uncle Kent was so much younger to me than his true years. He was like the Labrador dog that never realizes he’s not a puppy until years after he actually became a “dog”. He was so young at heart. He was so fun.
I remember when my grandfather was still alive and I would watch the two of them interact. Grandad (my grandfather) and Pappy (what Uncle Kent’s kids and grandkids called him). Grandad was also full of fun, but he was definitely the older sibling. Structured. In charge. A bit bossy. (I got all my good qualities from Grandad). Uncle Kent could drive him nuts even when they were the two old men at the party. But Grandad couldn’t help but laugh at him too. I know Grandad was so excited to see his baby brother again this morning…and the excitement probably lasted for a few moments before Grandad went “Sigh…here we go again.”
You would think that somebody as fun-loving and enjoyable as Uncle Kent wouldn’t be someone that would pass on deep thoughts or life lessons. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’ve had the opportunity these last few days to reflect on what I’ve learned from Uncle Kent in my life. I could go on and on about how he’s changed my life, but I’ll just highlight a few:
Uncle Kent’s love for Aunt Lois made me seek out a good man. My memories of Uncle Kent alone didn’t start until we lost Lois. Before that, my memories always had them together. I can see him smiling at her while we sat around their kitchen table. I can see him pulling her chair out for her in a fancy restaurant in Des Moines as we all sat down for brunch. My first “solo” memory of Uncle Kent was at our family reunion in Okoboji. I went into his room to let him know that dinner was ready outside. I caught him gazing lovingly at a picture of Lois. He brought it with him from his home and had it by his bed at the resort. I remember thinking, “If only I had a man who loved me like that.” My grandfather loved Grandma Barbara (and later Grandma Karen) in the same way. These two men taught us through their actions to not settle…to find somebody that is not embarrassed to love openly and forever. I found a man like that, Uncle Kent. Thank you for showing me the type to look for.
After my grandfather passed away, Uncle Kent made sure to remain connected with all of us. I remember having a complete panic after Grandad left us…thinking that I wouldn’t see my cousins Jenn and Mel…and that the Pappy Wing (Uncle Kent’s branch) wouldn’t be around as much. That panic lasted for a split second. Uncle Kent took over as the “patriarch” without a second-thought. He wrote letters to us. He sent us those Christmas calendars. He attended weddings and graduations. He made sure he could make the family reunions. He was present. He led us. He made sure that the glue didn’t wear off…but grew even stronger. He reminded us that family is forever.
Uncle Kent taught me to have fun, but not be cruel. He loved to pull little pranks, or tease you…but you never left the conversation feeling angry, sad or frustrated. You left it with a pep in your step and a smile on your face. Now…I am a smartass. I come from a line of smartasses. It’s clearly genetic. If you don’t believe me, venture over to Okoboji the next time the Klein family is there…because we will be there again. Uncle Kent was the king of the smartasses. But he wasn’t mean. He wasn’t cruel. He was all heart. He was all smiles. I strive to be like him without losing that amazing genetic trait that was given to me…and all of the other cousins (except…well you know who you are).
It’s bittersweet when you lose somebody so loved by your family, but at a point in their life when it’s time for them to move on.
A lot will change immediately because of our loss. My mother is now the head of the family (and I mean that in the most Godfather way possible…but more German/Scandinavian than Italian). We have a matriarch again! But we’ve lost the last member of an AMAZING generation of family members.
But I’m not panicked. I’m not afraid. This family is strong. This family is loving. This family is connected. This family is Klein.
God Bless You, Uncle Kent. Keep that party going up there like only you know how. Until I see you again…