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Uncle Mike

Tuesday, Aug 30, 2016

* From my syndicated newspaper column in October of 1998…

Drivers license corruption didn’t start under George Ryan, of course. My Uncle Mike tells a great story about when he first moved to Illinois from Indiana almost 30 years ago after marrying my Aunt Jean.

Mike grew up in rural Hoosier Land hearing lots of stories about how terribly corrupt Illinois was.

His worst fears were confirmed when he went to take his driving test at the local license bureau. “Leave a five dollar bill on the seat,” someone whispered to him.

Uncle Mike was finally facing the evil he had heard so much about. And being a reasonably honest individual unaccustomed to the ways of a barbarous land, and not having a lot of extra cash on him, he decided he would refuse to play the game.

Well, Uncle Mike flunked the test, of course. But the next time he took the exam he left some cash on the seat before he got out of the car. Lo and behold, he passed with flying colors.

Mike currently lives a blissful existence back across the state line.

My Uncle Mike died last night, his daughter and his wife were both at his side.

He was such a great guy. Very funny, very gentle, very sweet.

* He was one of those people who had a joke for every occasion. I asked him once if he had volunteered for the Army. “Volunteered? I still have splinters under my fingernails from when they dragged me off!”


When he was a kid, his mom gave him a diary. He read it to me once, speaking in the voice of a child. It went something like, “Today, I played cowboy.” Turn the page. “Today, I played cowboy.” Turn the page. “Today, I played cowboy.” Turn the page, “Today, I played fireman.”

You had to be there.

* Mike learned to fly an airplane when I was young and I flew with him several times and even went through the study guides with him while he worked to get a commercial license. He taught me about clouds, aerodynamics, you name it. It was so easy to learn things from him because he was such a patient, kind man. We were sitting at his kitchen bar table studying together one night and he started telling jokes and I literally fell off my chair laughing. I don’t remember a single one of those jokes, but I’ll never forget that long fall off that high bar stool. No blood, no foul. I got up laughing.

He bought a motorcycle back in the day and would take me for rides. We were pulled over by the cops near my grandma’s house in Ashkum once because I wasn’t wearing sunglasses. He bought me a pair and later that day a bug or something hit my glasses and they cracked. Thank goodness for the cop. I don’t think I ever did tell my mom that story.

* Mike wasn’t somebody who worried too much about his career. He tried numerous occupations, never settling on one. He never really had much money and he never seemed to care all that much. He had a house, a great wife and lived in the town where he was born and raised, always surrounded by good friends and a strong family. He did, indeed, live in bliss.

Remington, Indiana was kind of a paradise to me when I was a kid. I lived on a farm in Iroquois County at the time, so our closest neighbor kids were over a mile away. Mike’s nieces and nephews lived near his house and they and their pals were all around my age, so we became fast friends. I don’t remember any of them ever once causing any trouble. They were such good kids, but so much fun to hang out with, always laughing and smiling. And then I’d go back to Mike and Jean’s house and listen to show tunes. My Aunt Jean, my mom’s sister, was a big fan of show tunes. I think I memorized the entire “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” album at one point. It was a home away from home. An oasis of calm and constant mirth.

* I was nine when my cousin Tracy was born. She was the first girl on my mom’s side of the family, so she was always special. Tracy got her sense of humor and much of her sweetness from her dad and she shared a story yesterday about her childhood…

Remembering riding my pony Brownie for the first time. I was 4. I had lifesavers in my jean pocket. I had dad as my coach. Around the maple tree I went one way. Then around the other way. I was clearly a prodigy at horseback riding. It was going great. I don’t know what got into Brownie but he took off with me fast. I was in the alley by Dotty Bahler’s house when dad told me to jump. I just did that. I trusted my dad to know the right course of action. I lost my lifesavers, and that was crushing, but I landed in soft grass with no injuries. My pony was found by the laundromat. I have never trusted another man more than this man. Generally he has given me good ideas for a long time.

* My mom called from Mike’s hospital room a couple of days ago and put me on speaker so I could talk to him. She warned me that he probably wouldn’t respond. But he perked up when he heard my voice and we managed a conversation. I told him I loved him. It was the last thing I said to him before he passed.

Today, Mom sent me a photo of a framed copy of my 1998 column that was hanging on Uncle Mike’s bedroom wall. That’s when I started writing this post. And that’s when I also decided that I’m going to take the rest of the day off.

* Here’s a photo taken by my brother Devin of Uncle Mike and Aunt Jean…

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - South of Sherman - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 2:43 pm:

    Sorry for your loss, Rich. Take care of yourself.

  2. - Ron Burgundy - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 2:50 pm:

    Very touching. Condolences, Rich.

  3. - thunderspirit - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 2:51 pm:

    Great stories and memories. Peace to you and your family, Rich.

  4. - Barton Lorimor - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 2:52 pm:

    = Uncle Mike died last night, his daughter and his wife were both at his side. =

    = …we managed a conversation. I told him I loved him. It was the last thing I said to him before he passed. =

    Lucky man. It sounds like he got to reap what he had sown.

    Sympathies, Miller Family. Jenny, Robin, and I love you guys. You have my phone number for whatever whenever.

  5. - Big Joe - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 2:57 pm:

    So sorry for your loss, Rich. Great stories. Sounds like your uncle was a really great guy.
    RIP, Uncle Mike.

  6. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:02 pm:

    Thank you for sharing, and my best thoughts to you and your family. He sounds like he was a hell of a great guy.

  7. - Belle - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:03 pm:

    So hard when the icons of our childhood pass-away. They play such a big part in our lives by helping us become who we are and nurture us in a way our parents cannot.
    I am so sorry, Rich.

  8. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:04 pm:


    My sincere condolences to you and your family.

    What a wonderful post for a very special man.

    My deepest sympathies.

  9. - cgo75 - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:06 pm:

    So sorry for your loss….Uncle Mike sounds like he was a special person.

  10. - Jerry Callo - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:08 pm:

    Rich, Thanks for sharing a few words about a very special man.

  11. - illini - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:09 pm:

    My deepest condolences and sincerest sympathies.

    Very moving tribute.

    Hoping everyone has that special uncle or aunt that will always be important to them.

  12. - JoanP - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:11 pm:

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Rich. He sounds like a wonderful man.

    “He had a house, a great wife and lived in the town where he was born and raised, always surrounded by good friends and a strong family.”

    And there’s the recipe for a happy life, I think.

  13. - Levois - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:14 pm:

    This was a very touching tribute. So very sorry for your loss. You depicted for us how he was as a person.

  14. - Concerned - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:18 pm:

    I am sorry for your loss. Your gift of words is a fitting tribute to your Uncle.

  15. - Huh? - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:20 pm:

    You have written your remarks for his funeral services.

    He sounds like the kind of uncle every kid needs.

  16. - DuPage - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:26 pm:

    Sorry about your loss, Rich.

  17. - West Side The Best Side - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:26 pm:

    Very touching and moving tribute for a common man, backbone of America type guy. Sorry for your loss.

  18. - Kirk Dillard - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:28 pm:

    Super tribute! Very sorry for your loss of a man I’d have loved to know too. We all need family like Uncle Mike. Again, I loved your heartwarming column and the Uncle Mike’s of the world–they are rare– we need to cherish.

  19. - SOIL M - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:28 pm:

    Rich,My sincere condolences to you and your Family.
    Thank you for sharing great memories of a great man. Hope you and your Family find peace thru this time with memories and stories just like what you shared with us.

  20. - Mason born - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:29 pm:

    Sounds like a special soul. You’re a lucky man Mr. Miller.

  21. - Team Sleep - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:31 pm:

    I haven’t posted anything on here in well over 5 months, but this is different. I’m sorry for your loss, Rich, and I’m praying that you find comfort during this time.

  22. - G'Kar - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:32 pm:

    So sorry for your loss.

  23. - walker - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:34 pm:

    Life well-lived.

  24. - City Zen - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:39 pm:

    Great memories. Thanks for sharing!

  25. - @MisterJayEm - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:45 pm:

    Thank you for sharing your Uncle Mike with us, Rich.

    – MrJM

  26. - BBG Watch - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:46 pm:

    My sincere condolences on the loss of your uncle. May his memory be eternal.

  27. - A guy - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 3:46 pm:

    Those stories are still causing laughter both here and in that “less worldly” place. Guys like him teach you how to live before they stop livin’.
    Condolences and Good thoughts. Really good. AG

  28. - lady - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 4:04 pm:

    What a great life he had. You were very lucky to have him in your life

  29. - Arthur Andersen - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 4:10 pm:

    My condolences to you and your family on the loss of Uncle Mike. Your column was a touching tribute. Take care.

  30. - Streator Curmudgeon - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 4:22 pm:

    Some guys are billionaires in the things that really matter.

    I’m sorry for your loss, Rich.

  31. - Threepwood - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 4:28 pm:

    These are the things that matter. I’m truly sorry for your loss. But also, to paraphrase a friend: I’m glad you get to miss him.

  32. - Zoe - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 4:35 pm:

    so sorry for your loss, Rich - condolences to all of Uncle Mike’s family and friends

  33. - Anon221 - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 4:51 pm:

    Live. Love. Laugh.

    You and he had all three:)

    Thank you for sharing your memories of a life well lived.

  34. - blue dog dem - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 5:02 pm:

    Take comfort in the thought that you will meet again.

  35. - Amalia - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 5:17 pm:

    deepest condolences for your loss. And thank you for sharing such wonderful stories, today and always here in this room. This is the way we relate even when we disagree on issues. Family, friends, music, laughter. Remember the chuckles you had with him!

  36. - Decatur gal - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 5:29 pm:

    Bless your Uncle Mike, he sounds like a wonderful man. Deepest condolences.

  37. - FormerParatrooper - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 5:46 pm:

    My deepest condolences to you and your family. Thank you for sharing those memories, as they are a testament to a generation that is rapidly leaving us.

  38. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 5:53 pm:

    I loved the funny stories about your uncle. Thanks for sharing.

    My deepest sympathies are with you and your family.

  39. - tch02 - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 6:01 pm:

    My sympathies to you and your family. Thanks for sharing the memories of your uncle!

  40. - Grandson of Man - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 6:07 pm:

    Great and touching post, Rich. Deepest condolences to you and yours for the loss of your beloved uncle.

  41. - Dan Johnson - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 6:21 pm:

    Thanks for sharing the story of a great guy. I’m sorry you have to part ways.

  42. - perry noya - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 6:53 pm:

    Rich, I had an uncle in my life, also a pilot, also from the rural Midwest, who was likewise as important to me as yours. Your elegy was so eloquent, it brought back memories of him. Thank you.

  43. - Slippin' Jimmy - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 7:14 pm:

    Uncle Mike sounds like he was a great human being. Very sorry you lost him. He was obviously very close to you.
    Very touching and please accept my deepest sympathy.

  44. - Behind the Scenes - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 9:23 pm:

    Everyone needs an “Uncle Mike” in their lives.

    The lucky ones do.

    The luckiest uncles need someone to remember them as you just did.

  45. - Property of IDOC - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 9:37 pm:

    Sincere sympathy, sent with love and blessings to you and your family.

  46. - PublicServant - Wednesday, Aug 31, 16 @ 6:17 am:

    Sounds like a great uncle, Rich. My condolences on your loss.

  47. - Silent Majority - Wednesday, Aug 31, 16 @ 6:47 am:

    Godspeed on your journey Mr. Miller….

  48. - New Slang - Wednesday, Aug 31, 16 @ 8:24 am:

    Rich, you’re a great storyteller when you talk about things very personal to you. This short post read like a short story, leaving me wanting to know more. I’m sorry for your loss; what a character your Uncle was…and what a wonderful life he lived.

  49. - Anon - Wednesday, Aug 31, 16 @ 8:39 am:

    When I lost my wife, I was no where near as eloquent as you. Thank you for putting into words some of the same (similar) feelings I have had. Obviously the situations are different, but again, thank you for coherently and beautifully explaining how someone can touch your life in ways that may not always be apparent.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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