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Recalling a surprise tribute to a sweet uncle’s memory in New Orleans



On June 3, 2005, I flew to New Orleans for a church-related gathering. Before our meeting started that evening, my host dropped me off downtown. I walked from Canal Street down to the French Quarter. I hadn’t been to New Orleans in a decade, and I dearly wanted to soak up that wonderful place on that sunny day.

I was very conscious of the date: June 3 was my Uncle Glen’s birthday. He was a bachelor, sweet and needy and not very bright. I cared for him after his folks, my grandparents, died in 1983.

Uncle Glen died Dec. 22, 2004. At his little funeral, his pastor rejoiced that “Glen had gone ‘home’ for Christmas.” Besides his pastor, the president of Uncle Glen’s Sunday school class spoke a few words, and then the assistant pastor sang His Eye Is on the Sparrow. That’s the only hymn Uncle Glen had requested. It fit him exactly. Although he was a sparrow of a man, Uncle Glen had no doubt that he was one of Christ’s own.

For 20 years, we’d celebrated his birthday together. I’d take him to lunch at McDonald’s, and we’d tease each other. Then I would clean his house or tidy his room in the nursing home. Last year marked my first June 3 without him. If nobody besides me had remembered Uncle Glen’s birthday before I left home, there was no possibility that anyone in New Orleans would. I wanted to grab strangers to tell them what day it was -- I just wanted someone to know.

I continued my walk to the French Quarter with Café du Monde as my terminus. In the past, I’ve worn navy blue or black to this old café, where beignets are served hot from the oven and coated with confectioners’ sugar. On other visits, when I left the premises of the café powdered in sugar, everyone knew I was a tourist, but this time, ta da! I was prepared: I wore a white blouse. A Latina waitress quickly brought me three beignets and a soda. I sat in one of my favorite places eating my favorite doughnuts. Still, never far from my mind was the knowledge of what day it was.

When I looked up from writing “gloat” cards to friends, I enjoyed the sunny sights and sounds. On one side of the restaurant, a tall white man folded balloons into animal creatures for laughing children. Along the street, vendors hawked merchandise made in China. By the wrought-iron fence around the café, a black man played the trumpet and sang – mostly from the Louie Armstrong songbook.

The musician was having a good time, selling his CDs, singing his pop music, joking with the tourists. And then out of nowhere, he began to blow the notes to His Eye Is on the Sparrow. He played the verse slowly. When he got to the chorus, he dropped the horn from his lips and sang those comforting words, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”

As the sweet sun streamed down on me and all of us listening to the street singer, tears streamed down my face. Someone had remembered that it was Uncle Glen’s birthday. Thank you, Jesus!

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