On May 26, 1999, my birthuncle, Doug, was killed by an Amtrak train.
He had been with the railroad since 1963, and was a conductor. His train was off on a side track, waiting for other train traffic to pass as scheduled. There was a car accident on a nearby highway, and he and a couple of other engineers went over to help. They made sure everyone was okay, made sure flares were put out and that the police were contacted. Walking back to his train, he looked both ways and stepped onto the tracks. He was hit and killed by an Amtrak passenger train going about 75 mph. He died instantly.
Doug was one of the good ones. He was married once and divorced, and never married again. He lived a quarter mile away from my grandmother and was her constant companion. He helped her out, ate meals with her, and took her for weekends to his house on the beach. He was a wonderful son, a much-loved uncle by his nieces and nephews, and a role model for many.
Being a rider was one of Doug's passions. He had a big Harley Davidson, customized, black and chrome. The weekend that I met Vicki for the first time, he let us have the reunion at his beach house. That weekend, although he is camera shy and not big on crowds, he spent with us, quiet and strong in the background, and took Vicki and I for rides on his Harley. That ride was a big deal. Doug didn't just take *anyone* on his bike - it was his baby. I knew that the minute he handed me the helmet and told me to "Climb on" behind him that I was being given a special honor and a privilege. Doug was deeply involved in the rides and in the Toys for Tots program that the riders' clubs participate in. He was a true member of the community in the sense that he cared for others, he helped others, and he lived his life in a way that didn't impact others negatively.
Uncle Doug also liked to travel, and every year went someplace new.
What I will always remember about Doug is how quiet and reserved he was, yet how much he had an impact on those around him. He was intelligent and opinionated. You could tell if Doug liked you by just that certain look in his eyes when he talked to you. He spent time with me talking about my life and my future. He made me feel special and loved. Our entire family grieves his loss, and we all have a big Doug-shaped hole created by his passing. My grandmother has lost the person she most depended on, and is enduring every parents worst nightmare: outliving one of your children.
In the weeks following my uncle's tragic death, some VERY interesting news came to light: Doug had a daughter that no one knew about!
Christan came to Doug's funeral. She'd known who her father was most of her life, and a few years back had unsuccessfully attempted contact with him. Unfortunately, Sylvia treated her like an unwanted birthmark at the funeral and afterward, and didn't tell my grandmother about her. Once grandma found out, however, Christan was welcomed with open arms. In the time since Doug died, Christan remodeled his old bachelor house and moved my grandmother in, where Grandma will live rent-free for as long as she lives. Christan is a godsend to us. She has taken over where Doug left off, taking care of Grandma and protecting her from the vultures that are my birthmother and her husband.
In July of 1999 a box was delivered to me from Christan. When I opened it, I found bits and pieces of my uncles life, carefully wrapped and sent. I cried as I unwrapped Harley Davidson memorabilia and photos, a bottle of sand from Cancun, a stuffed animal, a money clip...it was the nicest gift I could have imagined. I now have some very special things to remember my uncle with. Christan sent similar packages to both Vicki and Jennifer, honoring the special relationships that each of us had with our uncle.
The month after Uncle Doug died, John and I went to Vicki's for a weekend visit. Vicki and I talked about Doug and how important he was in each of our lives. While I was there, Vicki's partner Jack took me for a long ride on his Harley Davidson. It was the first time since my uncle took me for a spin that I had been on a Harley. I love the feeling of being on a big bike, arms out in the air, flying through the open spaces with the wind in my face and my hair whipping all around. I thought about Doug, about "our" ride, about how special and loved he made me feel, and I just couldn't stop smiling. The tears are there, I miss him terribly. But everything's going to be okay, I know it with a certainty that comes from deep within. The body dies, but the spirit goes on. Doug is out there, watching, laughing, looking out for us. Because he was special, knowing him made us special, too. Many thanks to Jack for the ride and the memories it evoked.