My Uncle Russell died yesterday.
Details are sketchy still as the shock and news is still filtering in... but Russell died after having a massive heart attack on a golf course in Georgia where he and my Aunt Denise were vacationing.
I have a lot of aunts and uncles. On my Mom’s side there were 4 kids, and on my Dad’s there were 16. That is not a typo. This was a family reunion for just my Dad's side of the family several years ago...
My Granny Hazel is front and center in the blue dress. The rest are aunts and uncles and my Dad in the center of the back row. My uncle Russell is in the row of brothers, third from the left in the light blue shirt and beard. There are two aunts missing from this picture, and one uncle.
This photo below was another family reunion. Sadly there are a few more missing faces. Russell is in the back row, second from the left with the grey beard.
You can imagine once folks started getting married and having kids just how big these families grew.
Russell was actually the youngest of the whole group.
My Granny Hazel was pregnant with Russell (the 16th child) when her husband
Elmer died of a massive heart attack.
I have so many memories of Uncle Russell, but of course a few stand out. First when I was little I remember sitting in his lap and I would look up into his seemingly giant sized nose and he could blow cigarette smoke out of his nose like a dragon!
I was pretty impressed with that.
Russell, like the rest of the family was very athletic. In the 70‘s my Dad, and a few of their other brothers played all together on one basketball team in an All Indian League. Later he played for many years on a Men’s soccer team based on age.. he would play in his age bracket and also the younger bracket. I know he was playing as he went into his 50's... heck he might still have been on a team there in Monroe, Washington, where he made his home. It would not surprise me. Russell just had a natural talent for sports and enjoyed some form of exercise weekly if not daily.
Russell was also smiling, joking, and laughing nearly every time I saw him.
However, one memory of my Uncle Russell will always stand out above all the rest for me.
My Uncle Russell could dance.
His immediate family... his wife Denise, his son Russell Jr., and his twin daughters Jada and Jeni claimed to feel a slight embarrassment when he took to the dance floor. The would turn their heads, and cover their eyes... but they were always smiling. They loved him so much, and he enjoyed it so much so I am sure their embarrassment came only from the fact that when Russell took to the dance floor everyone turned their heads.
Now for the obligatory (and shortened) dictionary definition of the word 'Dance'...
1. To move rhythmically usually to music, using prescribed or improvised steps and gestures.
2. To leap or skip about excitedly.
3. To bob up and down.
There is no describing Russell’s dance... it encompassed everything within the above definition and more. His limbs had a mind of their own. And unlike that definition that states to ‘dance is to move rhythmically’, Russell’s movement on the dance floor sometimes followed the beat, but many times it did not. It was never a matter rhythm to Russell. His dance was about his love of physical movement, and his love for the music that he danced to.
Arms this way, arms that way, leg kicks, twirling partners, and intermittent staccato stomping. I know what you are thinking... he must have danced that ‘hippy’ dance that you see so many people of his generation engage in... you would be wrong. Those dancers move so similarly there is no really no individuality involved any longer, those dances fall under the ‘prescribed steps’ section of the definition listed above. For those of you who watched Seinfeld you might think he must have had an ‘Elaine’ type dance... you would still be wrong. Russell moved uniquely. People would clear a big space for Russell on the dance floor... you had to for your safety.. you could never anticipate where a limb would go next. I watched him dance at one of his daughter’s weddings in the Seattle area. I had heard the rumors but this was my first chance to see it in person. It is a memory of him I will cherish forever. He loved it, he smiled, laughed, sang, and moved all over the floor. He made everyone else in the room as happy as he was at that moment. No matter where I go, when the music starts and people walk towards the floor I will smile and think of him.
No one could dance like my Uncle Russell.