Leon Thompson: My Sam

When I was three years of age my father abandoned my mother and me. Drugs, alcohol and womanizing were the culprit. I never saw my father again until I was 26 years of age. My mother was very young and without support and returned home.

During the years that followed I was raised, for the most part, by my grandparents. My grandmother’s heritage was Pennsylvania Dutch Quaker and my grandfather was a New Mexico cowboy. We lived on a small farm in Concord, California, and they both had a great influence in my life. However, the one who had the greatest influence was my Uncle Sam.

My uncle was the youngest of my grandparents’ children and was ten years older than I. We shared a room together for over seven years and even to this day we see each other periodically. My uncle was born with cerebral palsy, but had a brilliant mind. He graduated with honors from high school, college, and graduate school with a degree in physics.

Following his formal education he could not find a job. Every interview led to the words: “We’ll call you, don’t call us.” My grandfather, who was not only a farmer but also a builder, saw a discouraged son and decided to teach him carpentry. He would show my Uncle Sam how to lay out a foundation one time and he never forgot it. He began to build houses and never allowed his “handicap” to interfere with his growing abilities in the building trade.

During these years I learned from my uncle to never allow a disability to become a discouragement in life. My uncle began to show me how to nail, cut boards, pour concrete, wire a house, etc. etc. When we weren’t building we had chores to accomplish on the farm picking fruit, shelling walnuts and almonds and cultivating the fields. I will always be grateful to a “brother” who taught me so many things in life.

He was also fun and at one time he built a small “roller coaster” in the field. We had more fun riding that dangerous coaster and having several accidents. He took me to the auto races, carnivals, and the circus. When I was twelve years old he taught me how to drive a car. On my sixteenth birthday I was standing at the Department of Motor Vehicles ready to take my driving test.

What I learned from my mentor was a strong foundation in life, which was and still is today, the center of my life. We attended church together and I watched him lead a youth program and teach Sunday school. My uncle was a strong Christian man; and as we shared our room together in those early years I remember his telling me the importance of a foundation in life which would bring meaning, purpose and direction in my life. The foundation was centered on Jesus Christ. I have never forgotten those late night talks, and it is one of the things that led me to become a Presbyterian minister.

It was a sad day when I learned that my uncle was interviewed for a civil service position with the Navy and was hired. This meant that he would be leaving home, which he did. When he began his new job in southern California he soon became a supervisor in the lab where he worked. His specialty was guided missiles. His vocation took him around the world on many occasions. During his years of work with the Navy he continued to build houses in which he lived with his wife and two sons.

We continue to have a brotherly relationship and when his wife died I participated in her funeral service. A few years later he was to marry once again and I participated in the wedding of my new aunt.

People come and go in our lives, but there are those who have a strong influence as our mentors and my Uncle Sam is one of those. We all need an Uncle Sam in our lives.

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