Uncle Ralph Got His Wings

The End of an Era


From left: Rose Miriam, Blaine, Ralph Sr., Ralph Jr., Jean (my mother)

Ralph 1921-2016, Jean 1919-2006, Blaine 1922-2013

Ralph 1921-2016, Jean 1919-2006, Blaine 1922-2013

Ralph, Blaine, Jean

Ralph Sturtevant, Feb 7,1921 – July 12, 2016

The last of my mother’s siblings, my uncle Ralph, has moved on from this world.

During the 1960s, I spent most of my summers with my grandfather, Ralph Sr., on his ranch in California’s Sierra foothills. Any trip to “The Ranch” included a stopover at my uncle Ralph and aunt Bev’s place in Modesto. Uncle Ralph always picked me up at the bus station—even the one time he didn’t know I was coming. Surprise! My mom had told my grandfather, but that is as far as the word got.

Ralph and Bev were always very supportive of my creative endeavors. They were big fans of the bands I was in, Woodputty and Cobblestone. They kept me abreast of local media coverage concerning any subject I was interested in at the time.  I’m pretty sure Ralph was the best customer at my Zazzle.com photo site.

Since Bev passed in 2014, Ralph has been living with his daughter Jan in Santa Cruz. Just over a month ago, we learned from Jan that Ralph had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Exactly a month ago he was told he had 3 to 5 days left—his liver was failing fast.

I drove down hoping I wouldn’t be too late. Happily, I wasn’t. There was Ralph out feeding the chickens, and, except for the color of his skin, you wouldn’t know he wasn’t an exceptionally healthy 95 year old—a little tired, but who isn’t? It was a bit surreal holding what amounted to a week long wake for someone who seemed pretty OK. He would be out every morning and afternoon taking care of the chickens and yard, as well as providing us with spot-on analysis of the evening news.

Meanwhile, we ( sisters, cousins, extended family) played music, told stories, watched baseball, assembled puzzles, and visited. Ralph’s grandson, Noah—the chef—came in from Hawaii to ply us with gourmet meals. After five days, I reluctantly headed for home, leaving Ralph in the ever-present and loving care of his son, Jon, daughter, Jan, the grandchildren and others.

My uncle Ralph was a gentle man and the consummate gentleman. I think he would have thought it just too rude for him to leave without allowing for his loved ones to come to terms with the idea.

Uncle Ralph got his Wings

In my uncle’s final hours, as he soundly slept

After we altogether and individually had laughed and wept

A Scrub Jay stole into his room with no one else about

It began knocking on the mirror when it was time to go out

It perched on the bed rail for one final goodbye

Then cousin Jan showed it the door and it took to the sky

Hmm, why a Scrub Jay, I thought, why not a hummingbird or a dove?

Why not a bird that more people think highly of?

“Judge not lest ye be judged” I heard myself say

Then it made perfect sense that Ralph would want it that way

Without a script, Ralph lived the Golden Rule simply because it makes sense

Would that we all could be so wise from this moment hence

I suppose Scrub Jays can bring to mind any number of things

But I’m going to remember when my uncle Ralph got his wings