When the call came from my mom at 6:58 this morning, I knew her message without having to answer.
By the time her voice cracked during her “good morning” to me, she didn’t need to say another word.
But she did.
“Linville passed this morning.”
My great-uncle Linville Reed, my maternal grandfather’s brother, died at about 4 a.m. Monday, July 13, after prostate cancer spread into his bladder, eventually shutting down his kidneys. Much of his family (including my grandparents and mom) got to spend the last few days with him, saying their goodbyes, reminiscing as possible.
I only saw Linville a handful of times each year, but when I did, he made sure they counted. At family reunions each fall/winter in Kentucky and summer visits to a lake in Virginia, Linville held court, keeping us all entertained with his stories and jokes, many that flew over the heads of his younger listeners. He’d tell a semi-dirty joke, and I’d laugh because the adults were laughing, then I’d rush away to try to figure it out, usually having to wait years before vague facts about birds and/or bees crept into my realm of knowledge. When the joke’s punch line became clear to me, no matter how many years had passed, it always brought a smile.
One of my favorite childhood memories involves watching Bill Cosby Himself, a classic movie version of Cosby’s comedy routine, at a family reunion. I couldn’t have been more than 8-10 years old, but now, 20-plus years later I fondly recall those jokes that have been etched in my mind. I spent part of yesterday re-watching, for the first time in at least 10 years, that stand-up act, and the laughs felt like my childhood. As much as I laughed during “Dad is great; he gives us chocolate cake,” I also wanted to cry. Years go by, people change, family dies, but I’m glad the laughter remains.
This clip is long, but it’s one of my favorite bits of comedy of all time.
Linville was a master storyteller, knowing the exact placement of pauses and breaks to enhance his sharp comedic timing. Listening to him spin a yarn, usually while resting comfortably in a chair near a fireplace, surrounded by platters of biscuits and gravy, bacon, sausage, country ham, eggs and fried potatoes, I picked up on how to let the words unfold, to pepper a tale with enough details and side notes to make it real, to make it interesting.
As a writer, I’m always thinking about my influences, the people who one way or another shaped my style into my writing voice. My best teachers/professors and favorite authors had, of course, a significant impact, but others a bit closer to home, a tad more personal, also left their mark.
One was my childhood pastor, David Rule (who is better known simply as Brother Rule), particularly in the way he would give his opening remarks, craft his sermon around it, then bring it all back together with a closing sentence or two that tied everything together. My friend (and former sports editor in Georgetown) Josh Underwood loved to point out how I like to end my stories and columns with a nice little bow. I guess I paid more attention in church as a 7-year-old than I realized.
Another influence was, of course, Linville, and though I never had a chance to tell him the role he had in my writing, it’s something that lives on with each word, each sentence, each story.
I have no bow for this blog, nothing to summarize, nothing to recap, nothing to leave you with except a heavy heart and fond memories.