A Boy Named Ova

I lost my uncle on January 6th.  His given name was Ova Haddix, but he was always "Ovie" to me, and so he shall ever remain.

Ovie was born Nov 10, 1939 and died January 6, 2015 at age 75.  He was buried in Sterling Heights, Michigan just north of Detroit, his adopted home.   My Aunt Sue asked me to be a pallbearer and I was honored to serve.  It was the least I could do to serve a man who'd epitomized force of will and strength, whose earnest gaze and frank self assessment I needed as a child and adolescent.

Ovie wasn't a big man--wiry thin and just above average height--but he was larger than life.   He had a ready smile, and a booming voice, and an even louder laugh.   He was a a fount of endless stories and opinions, and he loved to talk, especially to his family.  As with many Jess and Dorothy Haddix children, he never met a stranger.

Throughout my childhood, he'd host us as we'd come to Detroit in summers and on holiday breaks to visit first at their house in St. Claire Shores where Pam and Tim grew up, then in Utica, finally at their *amazing* 3-story house on the far northern outskirts of Detroit.   Detroit seemed so other-wordly to me, with its factories and industry, broad streets, danger, and people who spoke so differently from myself.

Each time, Ovie would go out-of-his way to be the magnanimous host to his very large extended family, often boarding 8-10 people (with kids bent on breaking things) under his roof.  He wouldn't hear of us getting a hotel.  Out of the question!   (Honestly, somewhere he's pissed that I spent the night in a hotel for his funeral, sorry Ovie!)

(He had an amazing cabin on a lake in the Upper Peninsula, which was his respite from the grind and site of a near-death experience for me, but that's a story for another time.)

Ovie was a hard man.  He was born amid the depression, served as an MP in the military in Germany, and left in the great diaspora after WWII from Eastern Kentucky up to Detroit.   He stayed fit throughout the rest of his life; every time I hugged him, it hurt.  I was fat; he was not.

I don't have the history straight in my mind, but he got hired on in a sub-supplier for the auto industry, and put his whole self into it, finally buying-out the owner of his shop in Detroit in 1984.   He was the quintessential "boss":  He spoke with command, and expected to be listened to.  There's a great story about him trying to teach my dad and uncle mike to MIG weld in 1994 that has a punchline something like, "I don't give a rat's ass what you think you know about welding, Mike.  We're gonna learn MY MOTHERF****** WAY."

"The shop" as he called it was a never-ending font of stories, both of the auto industry, unions, workers, and downtown Detroit itself.  He'd talk about theives, con-men, and prostitutes walking up-and-down the street.  For a kid from Jackson, Kentucky, the town and life he described sounded as different as the moon.

* * *

I could go on-and-on about Ovie, but I'll close with one signal moment that affected me for the rest of my life.  Ovie had this way of looking through you, of seeing who you were and who you were headed towards being.  That is, he saw the path your choices lead to.

I was probably 10 or so when this happened.  We'd moved to the farm when I was 8, and I was an only-child, stuck away from anyone my own age.  There was plenty to busy myself with on the farm and lots of things to interest me, especially my new computer.   In honesty, I was bored to tears and lonely, but I was doing my best to act like a grown-up and get on with life.  There was work to be done.

Anyway, I was sitting the Family Diner in Jackson (now burned-down) enjoying some of their famous vegetable soup, trying to be like Ovie.  I was telling stories and doing my best to be the center of attention (like Ovie).  However, at 10, I hadn't discovered that the thing most people find interesting is stories about other people.  In any case, I had no close friends, so I was telling stories about my Tandy 1000 EX and some issues I was having with the spreadsheet application trying to do a budget for Mom.  (Yes, I'm *that* boring.)

Ovie put up with this for a good 10 minutes before his omnipresent smile kinda froze on his face and he fixed me with a gaze.

"You need to be a kid, Harold Ray.  You'll have all of your life to be an adult, but only this time to be a kid."

He didn't make a huge deal about it, and his easy laugh returned soon after, but he was right.  He had the stones to stay that in front of my mother, too, who wouldn't hear anyone criticize or admonish me, even for my own good.  He knew I was choosing a path I'd regret.

* * *

I wish I could say that simple statement extracted the stick from my ass and loosened me up into a All-American adolescence.   It didn't.   Meeting my wife in college helped, and that work-in-progress continues.

Staring at the casket Friday, I saw a man whose life was well-lived, who worked hard, and loved hard.  He never asked anyone for anything, and pulled himself up from nothing.  He was present in every conversation until Alzheimer's ebbed him away starting 3 years ago.

I loved you, Ova Haddix.  I'm sorry you've gone, but I look forward to hearing you laugh again.

God bless and keep you, uncle.  Thanks for being awesome.


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