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Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Uncles/Aunts (04/17/08)

TITLE: Oh, To See What Uncle Benny Sees
By Sharlyn Guthrie
04/24/08
~10th Place


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The phone call announcing Grandma’s death came as unexpectedly as a cold north wind in August. Grief, Death’s cruel step-sister, was of necessity detained.

“Who’ll look after Uncle Benny?” I called, catching up to Daddy.

“We will, of course.” Daddy’s reply fell like a courtroom gavel, firm and final.

***

Uncle Benny, the oldest, but most child-like of Daddy’s brothers, lived with Grandma in the small two-story bungalow three blocks from our house. Grandpa had died years earlier, before my birth. I adored my playful, good-natured grandma, but I can’t say I really knew Uncle Benny. He rarely spoke to anyone but himself, and moved constantly about the house grazing walls and furniture with one hand, like a trolley on its cable. His eyes gazed upward, pulling his lips into a slight smile. I once asked if Benny was blind, but Grandma shook her head. “Benny sees so well, he sees things that most of us can’t.” Sometimes I squinted up toward the ceiling, straining to see what glorious sights he beheld.

Uncle Benny meticulously arranged bottles of bubble bath, lotions, and soaps by graduated sizes on the bathroom shelf. I enjoyed moving them around just to see if he’d notice. He was quite astute, returning each to its proper angle and station within minutes of my meddling. Perhaps it was a cruel game, but at least it was an interaction between us.

The most remarkable thing about Uncle Benny, however, was his ability to play the piano. For several hours each day he performed songs that were his alone. His limber fingers waltzed effortlessly over the keys as his upturned head wagged back and forth. His music delighted Grandma and her frequent visitors.

***

The phone call sent Daddy and I racing the three blocks to Grandma’s house. We found Uncle Benny talking loudly into his flapping hands, while a neighbor attempted to soothe him. Uncle Benny had pounded on her door and led her back to the chair where Grandma still slumped over her open Bible. Daddy probably wouldn’t have taken me along if he’d been thinking straight. The scene was at once alarming and reassuring. It changed me in ways that only death and real life can.

Daddy made some phone calls, and then turned to his brother. “Benny, you know where Mom went, right?”

Silence.

“She’s not coming back, Benny. That’s just mom’s body in there –an empty shell. She was just sitting there talking to Jesus this morning, and I guess He told her to come on up and join Him and Dad. That must have been an invitation she couldn’t refuse. I sure wish I could see her now. She’s in Heaven, Benny.” Benny still stared into his hands, but calm had settled over him like a cool, swelling shadow. “I wonder what the party is like. Do you think they’re dancing, Benny? The angels and Mom and Dad –they must be having a grand time. Mom will be telling them whether the music is good or not, just the way she always told you.”

“Oh Benny, I miss her, too. I don’t know how we’ll manage without her, but we will.” Daddy didn’t see me poking my nose around the doorframe. He and Benny were locked in an embrace, tears streaming down both of their faces.

The doorbell rang, and the coroner entered to validate what we already knew. He was followed by the funeral director, who carted Grandma’s shell out the front door and into a hearse.

Daddy chose to stay with Uncle Benny at Grandma’s house while making plans for the funeral, believing that gradual change might be easier for all of us. By the day of the funeral, Grief had arrived, along with many sorrowful relatives.

The service was solemn, unlike the rollicking Grandma I remembered. Soothing scriptures and details of Grandma’s well-lived life were unfolded slowly, thoughtfully. Friends and relatives dabbed with tissues at the corners of their eyes. After the benediction was read, Uncle Benny rose and strode to the piano.

We shifted uneasily in our seats. Then, from the piano wafted Uncle Benny’s newly composed song –the sound of angel wings. It straightened our shoulders and lifted our chins. It drew our eyes upward, and our lips into a smile, like his. Tears of joy flowed freely down our cheeks. And for once I saw what Uncle Benny saw –a vision of Heaven so warm and welcoming I envied my Grandma and Grandpa who surely were dancing there.

Accept Jesus as Your Savior Right Now and be Certain of Eternal Life.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Betsy Markman04/24/08
Wow, this is beautiful. It brought back memories of my own grandmother's memorial service, and also touched me because of my own autistic son, my "Benny." Thank you for this beautiful work.
Lynda Schultz 04/24/08
We sometimes feel pity for the "Bennys" in our lives. But in many ways, they are far better off than the rest of us—and this is one of those ways. Well done.
Sara Harricharan 04/25/08
Wow. Lots going on here. I too wanted to see what Uncle Benny did and at the end, I did. It was great-and wonderful, bittersweet story. Very nicely done. ^_^
Martha Davis04/25/08
This story is so touching and the characters come to life in your descriptions. What a wonderful glimpse through the eyes we so often misunderstand.
Laury Hubrich 04/26/08
Very good story here. Loved reading the descriptions and how the little kid interacted with the uncle. Very good writing.
Laury
Yvonne Blake 04/26/08
Oh, so touching...a tear jerker! I cried with Benny and heard his song for his mother.
So beautiful, so wonderful! **THIS SPARKLES**
Loren T. Lowery04/28/08
A touching story very well written. Several things caught my eye such as arranging the bottles to interact with Benny and the squinting of the eyes to try and see what Benny saw. You did a good job of drawing your reader into at least a part of Benny's world.
Beth LaBuff 04/28/08
I liked this, "fell like a courtroom gavel, firm and final." You created a mystique about Uncle Benny leaving me wanting to learn more about him. You especially struck a chord (with me) with his piano playing. I enjoyed the picture of the arranging, then rearranging the bathroom bottles. :) The father's explanation to Benny, concerning the death of his mother, is absolutely beautiful -- as is your whole story… I love it!
Jan Ackerson 04/28/08
Wonderful depiction of Uncle Benny, and I really like the voice of this story.

I almost think your title gives too much away from the beauty of the last few paragraphs.

Note: in the sentence that starts The phone call sent Daddy and I racing..., it should be Daddy and me. You can tell by taking "Daddy" out of the sentence.

I have a soft spot for stories about the mentally ill, and this is one of the best I've read.
Debbie Wistrom04/29/08
Enjoyed the pace of this and the way you helped us identify with Benny. So many good parts here, it is hard to single one out.
Willena Flewelling 04/30/08
What a beautiful story. Benny was so blessed to have a brother like the MC's father, who did not hesitate to take his brother into his own home... but the family is sure to be blessed even more for having him there.
Sara Harricharan 05/01/08
***Congrats on your EC!***
Beth LaBuff 05/01/08
Sharlyn -- Super congrats on your EC with this!!
Sheri Gordon05/01/08
Congratulations on your EC. This is beautiful, and so well written. Great job with the topic.
Loren T. Lowery05/01/08
Sharlyn, it is so good to see your name up here again. Congratulations on placing with this well-written, thought provoking piece. Loren
Dee Yoder 05/01/08
Wonderful story, Sharlyn. Congratulations!
Sally Hanan05/01/08
You have some fabulous little gems in your sentences--great writing and very touching.
Julia May05/01/08
Oh I loved this - especially the last paragraph. Beautiful! Congratulations on your win.