Everyone should have an Uncle Red

It took me decades to even realize his real name is Ron.

All I’ve ever known is that people call him Red – and for good reason.

He obviously has red hair – and the fiery personality to match.

From my first memories of life, he was one of those explosive people that eeked his way into a special part of my heart.

As a little girl, I remember seeking a place on his lap with the other lucky cousins.

He always called me Honey. He always had something to point out that was good about me – even if I was a naughty little snot.

I remember my dear Uncle Red, laughing hysterically with my father. The two married into the Ridder family and found camaraderie in their similar styles of humor and inclination for adult beverages to get them through the holidays.

All my life, I remember Uncle Red being a determined teaser – especially when it came to the teenage girls in the family. I watched my aunts be teased in front of their boyfriends until the 16-year-olds were beet red and beyond embarrassed. I thought it was funny until I reached the same age.

When my dad died, it was a terrifying time. Not having a father left an unspeakable void. But whenever he could, Uncle Ron made sure we knew he would always be there for us.

And when my mother passed away, I knew I had a special place to go if I needed to talk. There were times that I found myself driving down the long driveway to Uncle Red and Aunt Linda’s house. I’d often find him working in the yard and Linda pulling a pie out of the oven.

We soon would be sitting around the kitchen table in their big, historic house – consuming therapeutic calories and dishing about life. No matter how stressed out I was or how bad I felt when I got there, I was rejuvenated when I left. Uncle Red could always take a bad situation and put a comedic spin on it.

Shortly after my sisters and I moved to a house in town, we had a fire in the kitchen. The smoke damage was so intense that we were forced to stay elsewhere for a week. Who opened their doors? Well, Uncle Red and Aunt Linda, of course. They already had a brood of children in their house – but taking in four more didn’t seem to matter.

Uncle Red always saw a light at the end of the tunnel when it came to life’s struggles. And that remained the same when he was hit square with his own personal loss. His 16-year-old daughter, Stephanie, was tragically killed in a car accident.

I remember the night vividly. Elgin being a small town, everyone knows everything at all times. My husband and I were hosting my in-laws’ 25th anniversary party when we became aware of an emergency call south of town. Soon after, I found out my cousin had been killed.

It was with great trepidation that we traveled to Uncle Red’s house. I didn’t know what I was going to say, what I could possibly do.

Uncle Red met us at the door – and said, “Just give me a hug.” And so we did. Shocked and grief stricken, he was. But he let his faith sustain him and seep out into the rest of us.

The man is strong, yet his heart is tender.

I’ve learned a lot from Uncle Red. But possibly one of the most important lessons is what it’s like to truly love someone. I’ve been a witness to the deep affection he and Linda have had for one another all these years. He has always been an incessant flirt who comes at his longtime bride with charismatic charm laced with sexual undertones.

Yes, Uncle Red is just as smitten with Aunt Linda as the day they met so many decades ago. That commitment is rare in a world where love is fleeting and divorce can be considered easy – and it’s valuable for young people to see, to learn that love can be kept alive.

One day, I received an invitation to a surprise birthday party for Uncle Red with a bigger number than before. It shocked me, because I still see him as the 30-year-old guy telling questionable jokes while my father laughed until he cried.

So, today, I’m sending out best wishes to the red-haired man who has greatly touched my life.

You are a stand-up guy.

You have always been the most entertaining character in the room.

Your awesome hugs somehow feel like magic is being infused into the veins of your recipients.

You are unique.

You wear your heart on your sleeve.

Remember how you and Dad hated turning 30? Laugh because you did it once again and then some.

Thank you for being my Uncle Red – I’m lucky to have you. Everyone needs someone like you in their family.





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