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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Valentine

When I Think of a Jewel or a Tool…

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.

– Romans 12:10

My final Movember dedication is for my brother-in-love. We have known each other since we were younger than 5 years old. Our families connected when during our summer vacations. We have called each other’s parents aunt and uncle all of our lives. It’s was almost kismet when my sister and brother-in-law got married because we’d always considered each other family. The thing that marks the specialness about this relationship is that even though that marriage is now dissolved, the bonds we have created over this half century still endure.

For the purposes of this blog, we will refer to him as Uncle J. He has the ingenuity of MacGyver, the sensibility and patience of Desmond Tutu, the calmness of a skilled surgeon and the dedication of Job. One year he and my sister made the drive from New York to Georgia just so we could spend New Year’s together. Then he and my sister drove back the next day. The first year after the father exodus, Uncle J and my sister came down for the holidays. We always had modest holiday decoration in a cul-de-sac with very elaborate lighting. They arrived on Christmas Eve…a cold Christmas Eve and Uncle Jay spent hours putting lights on the house, much to the guys’ delight. My neighbor came over to tell him, you know you are going to have to take these down tomorrow, right? (The southern tradition is to have everything packed and put away before the New Year. The northern tradition is to keep the lights on through New Year’s Day. We kept the lights up!)

Everywhere you look in this house you see Uncle J – from ceiling fans to TV mounts to cable/phone wiring, blind installation – you name it, Uncle J can and has done it. He has a wonderful, what needs to be done attitude about things and is generous with his knowledge and time. He has taught my sons many things about being a responsible, Godly man. When his marriage dissolved, we had to learn how to navigate this new normal. We weren’t willing to abandon the relationship, but I wanted to be loyal to my sister at the same time. We came to a happy medium where we could peaceable manage the terrain. I am so glad we did.

I could share many stories about our escapades from getting the best sleep of our life on the New York City subway (and somehow we never missed our stop), to my mother deciding that orange juice should only be drunk in the morning making it a breakfast juice. The breakfast juice thing was founded on a logical fact but we thought it was hilarious. It wasn’t long before he was calling me BJ which happens also to be my husband’s name. Uncle J’s dad was able to visit with us one Christmas and it was remarkable to see that even though he didn’t grow up in the same house as his dad, how similar they were.

The funniest story involves Michael Jordan. I’d managed to buy tickets to a game during the year Michael Jordan retired the first time. My sister and brother-in-law drove down so that she could stay home with the baby and we could take the two older ones. Well, out on an errand, Uncle Jay and the oldest didn’t get back until half-time of the basketball game. When we talk about the story now, my guys recount the missed opportunity. The reality is they wouldn’t have remembered…but I still have the tickets!

He is so much more my brother than he is my brother-in-love. He calls the guys uncle and they call him uncle. As the fellas got older, you could tell who they respected, not because that was expected of them, but because the relationship was borne out of love. When we have an opportunity to speak to Uncle J on the phone, everyone looks forward to their turn.

We live too far from each other to spend a lot of in-person time together now but we are sure to stay in touch with each other. Uncle Jay celebrated a big birthday last month. He is just 10 months older than me so he always tells me that he tries out the age to let me know how it is before I join him on the age. I thank God for my dear brother. He is certainly a jewel.

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