Sunday, July 26, 2009

In Memory of my Uncle Adolf

It was one of those beautiful days out on Whiskeytown Lake yesterday. I was spending the morning with a couple friends catching Kokanee Salmon when my phone rang. Caller ID revealed it was my dad, so I answered with every intention of harassing him about not being out on the lake with me.
“I have some sad news Erich”.
I immediately thought something had happen to my Uncle Henry who just had the valves replaced in his heart. “Uncle Adolf died. They found him on the floor at his condo”. Apparently Uncle A had died a week ago, resolving the mystery as to why my Dad’s newspapers were never picked up while he was on vacation.
Uncle A died? This wasn’t computing. I just saw him at Peet’s Coffee 2 weeks ago. I called him while passing through the bay area after our trip to CT and NY to get together for a cup. From that moment to now, my mind began to flood with fond memories of an uncle that treated me with love and respect.
I remember the reversible silk jacket he to brought me from Japan as he finished his tour with the Navy. Red on one side and royal blue on the other with a giant eagle embroidered over the whole back. A 5 year old couldn’t have been prouder. A visit to the shoe store where he worked always resulted in a pocket full of balloons or a fancy metal shoe horn. On Saturday mornings he would be out mowing our lawn and I couldn’t eat fast enough to get outside and “help” him with my own plastic mower.
Not long after moving to CA, Uncle A followed and worked at the Alameda Naval Air Station as a avionics technician. Electronics always fascinated me, but working on equipment that belonged in airplanes made it especially impressive. I would stop by his shop on occasion when working on the base for IBM. He always had a strong cup of Navy coffee brewing and welcomed my visits. It was here that I heard him called “Al” by his peers. Al? Who’s Al? This is my Uncle Adolf.
But I soon learned another dimension of my uncle. Christianity was real and consumed his life. He loved talking about Christ. Sure, he had been my Sunday School teacher while attending Melrose Baptist Church. In fact, after one of his lessons, it was at his invitation that I invited Christ into my life. But Christianity wasn’t compartmentalized to church. His peers referred to him as Preacher and they would continually bombard him with theological questions and life issues.
I always felt welcomed by my uncle; at work, church, his house anywhere and anytime. Not many adults in my life were humble enough to ask questions about God to his younger nephew. Not many uncles would invite a 9 year old to drive across the United States with him. I witnessed his love for my aunt as he drew the words “I love you” on the sands of the beach for all to see. I saw the longing in his eyes for his kids to love God as he did. I experienced his patience in teaching me to drive a clutch. I remember my first lesson when he simply stated (with an open cup of hot coffee in his hand) “lesson is over when you spill this coffee onto my lap” and then would break out into one of his infectious smiles.
Uncle Adolf taught me the Morse code, the phonetic alphabet and how to build a house. He taught me about electricity, how to solder wires and record music on an old reel-to-reel tape recorder. But what I will miss the most will be the genuine joy he expressed at seeing me or anyone of my family and embracing us with a loving hug.

Surviving brothers Uncle Henry and John (Dad).

Have any memories of your own? I'd love to have you post them as comments...


  1. Becky Roehl10:14 PM

    Hi Erich. Kim mentioned this post to me. I actually found your blog a few weeks ago; it's amazing what you can find when you spend too much time hoping around Facebook and the internet. It's really touching to read about Dad from your perspective, and I love the picture too. I knew it had to be a recent one because I gave him that hat for Father's Day. I showed Amy, and I'll show Mom and Kelly later as well. So, thank you.

  2. When you get married it's very important to feel accepted into your husband's family. Uncle Adolf always made me feel like "family". There was a welcome from him no matter how long it had been between visits. His warm hug and winsome smile made you feel that he cared about you. I always felt welcomed in his home and enjoyed so much my encounters with him. There was no subject that he wouldn't discuss whether it was cooking, car problems, lawn care, politics...but most of all he really liked to talk about His God. He would enter into discussion about some doctrinal issue with gusto never in a stubborn way, but in a way that made it clear to you that he wanted to know more, understand better. It was his passion and everyone he met knew that.
    Adolf always made my girls and me feel that we important to him just by him stopping whatever he was doing to give us affectionate hugs and wanting to hear what was going on in our lives. There was a deep joy in his heart that made you want to be around him.
    With his death so unexpected, I find myself wondering if I ever expressed to him how much I appreciated his transparency, his willingness to serve, his strong devotion to his family, his genuine love and concern for others. There is a peace in my heart knowing that he's walking with his Savior, talking to Him face to face. But there's a sorrow as well because of his absence. Uncle Adolf will be greatly missed by our family, but we will remember him always with fond and warm memories.