A Tribute to My Uncle

Uncle Lee and Me Circa 1988This afternoon my family and I will be celebrating the life of Harold Lee Corbett. As I read over his obituary, it struck me how almost 78 years of life could be boiled down to one paragraph. I found myself wishing that obituaries reflected more on who the person was in their life than on a list of accomplishments and people left behind. Alas, I suppose that is what eulogies are for.

And so, as one of his beloved “Nasties” (He jokingly told my sister and I we couldn’t be nieces, because we weren’t “nice”) I thought it only fitting to write this tribute to my Uncle Lee or rather “Hunk-le” Lee as he preferred to be known as to us. You might already be able to tell he was quite a character.

While he was often sacrastic, had a quirky sense of humor and a round-about way of telling stories, he had a kind heart. Uncle Lee was a staple at all our family holidays, graduations and gatherings. He never missed sending us a birthday card, which inevitably included a couple funny limmericks he’d written based on the mishaps of our lives. As kids, we couldn’t wait for his light, blue Chevette to pull into the driveway at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. He would bring in is old brown suitcase and a cardboard box from the car, which contained a couple of cans of black olives for my mom and some paint by water books for us kids (and later for our own kids). He brought my girls each an advent calendar every Thanksgiving.

At Christmas time we could always count on him to bring us Legos and lifesaver story books. Until this past Christmas, we still got those lifesaver story books. He would stay behind as we went to Midnight Mass and watch the Pope on TV instead. Not a religious man, he would bless the meal with his favorite prayer “Rub-a-Dub, Dub! Thanks for the Grub!” We’d roll our eyes and laugh. Later on in life, he recited “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to us from memory! While we may have fidgeted a bit as he got through it, we were impressed he’d memorize such a long poem

He is the uncle who always wore flannel shirts, taught us to say “Uuuuuuugly” and did the “Muwaha-ha” scary laugh in the tunnel to the zoo. He wrote us a song called “How’s Your Liver!” and taught us about “pedistrians” on a long drive to Florida. When the mouse that was part of my Science Fair project had a litter of babies on Good Friday, he aptly dubbed them the “Jesus Mice.” He gave me a renewable scholarship when I graduated from high school and renewed it even though I didn’t complete the requirements to his satisaction. Looking back, I wish I’d taken more time to tell him what I was doing at college and how his investment in me was worth while.

When I went to Cleveland for an internship at Allen-Bradley, the company he once worked for as well, he invited me to join him and two of his former colleagues for their weekly Friday lunches. During this time, I got to know him better as an adult. He enjoyed hiking, traveling and watching documentaries that he recorded on his Beta Max. I found we actually had some things in common in that we both started our careers at the same company as technical writers. He then followed a path into Quality Assurance, which I too did for awhile (until I circled back to tech writing). We are also both poets. I am honored that he left his collection of poetry to me in the hope that I could help get them published for him one day. He once told me that he found it odd that later in his life, he hadn’t missed having children of his own, but what he really missed was not having grandchildren. He would have made a wonderful grandpa, I’m sure. Below is a poem that he wrote, which I will be reading at his memorial service later today. I can feel the joy and mirth he must of felt as the scene in this poem unfolded.

You will be missed, Hunkle Lee!


By H.L. Corbett

Look-About-Lodge in Twenty-Oh-Two;

Bluegrass concert; picnic, too.

Sprinkler turning, set on low;

Big kids playing, rough not slow.

Three tiny girls awaiting their turn;

Yearning to join, they watch to learn.

Obviously sisters; long print dresses;

Loose hair streaming…jet-black tresses.

Big kids done, girls stand in a row;

Sprinkler sprinkling, wetting just toe.

Each daring each a bit farther to creep;

Dress getting wet makes each backwards leap.

Forwards, backwards, toes-a-wigglng,

Laughing, squealing, always giggling.

Frequent glances back to see

Just how wet permitted to be.

Audience watching; what a great show!

Will they stay or will they go?

Finally in! Then, soaked to the skin,

Joyously running back to their kin.