04 March 2009

Albert Barr...How do I say Goodbye??

The last time I saw Uncle Albert was IHC 2008. I didn't think I wouldn't see him again in this lifetime.

So many memories...how do I write them all down??

Albert knew all of my favorite books. He fostered my love of Dr. Seuss...he used to quote whole books by heart - I put some of them to memory myself because of Albert. He read me parts of The Chronicles of Narnia (complete with voices), and he let me watch the movies, thereby fostering my little-girl crush on Peter, and my literary crush on C.S. Lewis. He knew all about Madeleine L'Engle - knew all the names and plots of her books by heart - and we used to discuss which ones had Biblical themes. I thought, when I was young, that he must know everything there was to know about literature.

They were such a big part of my childhood, Albert and Olene. I remember just shivering with excitement as my family prepared to go to their house. We kids would pick blueberries until our fingers were blue and lovingly abuse (accidently, of course...we only meant the loving bit) the multitude of kittens until the adults told us to leave them alone.

Even though I didn't see him much after he left the South, his is one of the faces I see when I think of the good old days - his face and Olene's; all the family still together; him with grandkids, nephews and nieces on his knees, who were mostly poking his belly and giggling. Those were the days when I was dubbed "Heather Jean" - days I will always cherish as some of the most precious of my lifetime.

Years ago at Aunt Olene's funeral, Albert and I cried in each other's arms - it was the first time I remember allowing myself to cry in front of someone. We hurt together that day. A year later he cried again as he told me how much he missed her. He spent Christmas at our house that year - spent most of the day sitting on the couch looking sad - he gave me a sweet pea Bath and Body Works set.

I loved hearing Uncle Albert preach. I've heard him preach what must have been a hundred sermons in my lifetime, but the one I remember the clearest was at an evening camp service at Hobe Sound the year I was eleven. He was standing to the right of the pulpit talking about keeping your godly standards in a sinful world. He drew an imaginary line on the floor and said to imagine the line was the center of God's will. He said, "You know it's important to stay right in the center of God's will...but maybe you'll think, 'What's wrong with taking just one step away? I'm not changing very much.' The problem is, once you've taken that step, you just say the same thing again: 'What's wrong with taking just one step?'"

He repeated and repeated these lines and took little steps sideways until he was about five feet away from his original "God's-will" line, and by the time he got there he was shouting, "IF YOU KEEP TELLING YOURSELF THIS LOOK WHERE YOU'RE GOING TO END UP! YOU AREN'T ANYWHERE NEAR THE CENTER OF GOD'S WILL ANYMORE!"

Every time I've considered my standards since that message I've remembered what he said. If I am the only person alive who remembers that night over thirteen years ago, he was still God's voice to help keep one person on the right track.

Remembering Albert shout at a crowd like that makes me compare and contrast two of his best qualities. He was so humble - if you've ever once heard him speak, you've heard him give personal illustrations that the average speaker would never dream of revealing about himself...but Albert did just that so other people could learn from his mistakes. But in the midst of all that meekness, Albert could still yell and make the crowd jump in their seats as he said just one concise thing that somehow hit home for everybody listening. He was humble, and because he was humble, people listened and took note when he said the hard things. He wasn't just preaching at people; he loved people, and he wanted all to go to heaven, no matter the cost to himself.

When I was really little I would race to sit beside Albert in church because I liked to listen to him sing and watch him weep silently as he got blessed by the hymns. Sometimes I would shyly stick my hand in his and wait for him to squeeze my fingers. I loved it when he did that. It meant he noticed me. I thought Albert was just the greatest.

I still think Albert is just the greatest. One of the things that stands out the most when I let my mind wander over all my memories of him is how much laughing I've done with him over the years. He just adored embellishing his stories - like the one about the time he accidently sat by the wrong woman in church and putting his arm around her before realizing that the whole place had gone silent.

I can picture him laugh- his eyes all crinkled up, his hilarity getting the better of him - he did have the most distinctive laugh, didn't he? - as the adults shared stories of an apparently-rollicking nature. I think I learned real laughter at his house.

I can't wait to laugh with him again - see those faces once more. They're reunited now, Albert and Olene, and for some reason the world feels right again.

I wish I could be there for his funeral. I wish I could say "I love you so much" just one last time...give him one more hug and look into his watery eyes and hear him say, "I love you, girl. You be good now, you hear." But I'll always cherish my memories.

The Bible says, "By their fruits ye shall know them." Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance...Albert Barr had them all in abundance. I wish I could see the look on his face as he hears his Father say, "Well done! You have been faithful..."

I've learned so much from good ol' Uncle Albert - that Mother Hubbard's daughter and cupboard were both bare, the real reason Davy Crockett headed west (killed him a barr), that it takes a steadfast perseverance to remain holy in a sinful world, and the inadvertant lesson that cherishing family is so much more important than having your own way.

I'm really going to miss him. Having him go now, with no way for me to say goodbye, is really hard. But I know I'll see him again. And I know that he's eternally happy worshipping at the feet of Jesus. And that's what matters most. He's where he should be now.

I love you, Albert. I'm proud to be your niece. And I can't wait to see you again. So I won't say goodbye - I'll just say (as in childhood), "See ya later, alligator."

With sad fondness,
That girl in Switzerland


  1. Ah. So when I was a kid, he had revival at my church, and i illustrated one of his sermons for them. He made a big fuss out of these pictures I had drawn of his sermon illustrations. And he let me play this computer game he was designing. He's really cool. *Hug* Too bad there's an ocean between us or I'd give you a real one.

  2. What a fun story! :-) He was really cool. And thanks for the virtual hug. :-) That computer game...was it the one with the squirrel...? Oh the hours spent watching him and that game...