This past week, we reflected upon a much-loved uncle and how much we appreciate the legacy he’s left us. Uncle Sam continues to give us reasons to be grateful we live where we do. Even though our nation is far from perfect, we are the envy of those who flock to our borders in search of a better life.
But last week, I was also reflecting on a much-loved aunt who died unexpectedly a few weeks ago. My dad’s younger sister was 91, but in good health. Her untimely death caught us all by surprise. Aunt Louise was looking forward to yet another Fourth of July with her family. In addition to it being Uncle Sam’s birthday, it was also her late mother’s birthday. Independence Day recalled a lot of special memories.
As I think of Weezie (what we nephews and nieces called her), my heart beats with much pride. She represents the best of what it means to be an American. Born to a Greek immigrant and his Virginia-born bride, my aunt (along with my dad and four other siblings) was raised on the Clearwater River outside Lewiston, Idaho. Weezie married her high school sweetheart and raised her family of four kids not more than five miles from where she grew up.
Surviving the challenges of the Great Depression, my aunt graduated from the school of hard knocks as well as Lapwai High School. The can-do attitude and tireless work ethic she observed from her parents became trademarks of her life and faith. A disadvantaged past paved the way for a bright future in the Valley of the Butterflies in which my aunt prospered.
Visiting Aunt Weezie and Uncle Dan in Lapwai was always a highlight of the summer. I discovered much about the Nez Perce tribe among which my cousins went to school. It was fascinating to learn that Walt Disney’s wife had come from this small town of which few people have heard. Several years ago when I took our church youth group to Lapwai to paint houses, I saw the evidence of Lillian Disney’s philanthropic generosity at the local high school football field. But I also noticed my aunt’s ongoing influence in the lives of her neighbors.
I loved watching my aunt interact with the native population of Lapwai where she served as the postmistress for decades. I loved observing her at the piano at the local Methodist church where she accompanied hymns Sunday after Sunday. Weezie modeled for me how people of different racial, political and economic backgrounds can relate as a family.
And speaking of family, the family that Weezie and Uncle Dan raised are nothing short of amazing. Educators, ministers, athletes, recording artists, a lawyer, civic leaders and business owners. My aunt’s kids and grandkids are a source of pride to our Uncle Sam. They are living out the American dream, pledging allegiance to the flag of our forefathers and celebrating the freedoms they fought to provide all of us.
I’m grateful that some of my favorite aunt’s family have sunk roots and borne fruit in my hometown. One of Weezie’s sons became the assistant principal of the middle school in Wenatchee from which I graduated more than five decades ago. Dan Wilson was a much-loved mentor to countless kids. His wife, Heather, made her mark as a popular elementary school teacher in East Wenatchee. Their daughter Natalie, one of Weezie’s granddaughters, was a popular employee at The Owl Drugstore soda fountain before becoming a local dental hygienist.
But I’m not the only one with relatives that are poster children for the American dream. You have favorite aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings who light up your life even as we think back to the fireworks that lit up the sky on the Fourth of July. Why not take time to reflect on their influence this week? If they are still living, give them a call and let them know how much they mean to you.
How I wish I could call Aunt Weezie one last time.
Guest columnist Greg Asimakoupoulos is chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores in Mercer Island.