Big O: The Storyteller whose side hustle was garbage.

I grieve best through words. Please bear with me.
The thing about being an adoptee is that you can tell who in your adopted family really accepts you. Not just “is fine” or used to your presence in the family but who really truly warms to you. As an adoptee, being fully accepted, embraced, and taken into the fold, is one of the best protective factors we can be given as we struggle with our identities. If ever this man had any negative inclination towards adoption or myself, he never once indicated in my presence. I was his niece. He always had a hug, a knowing glance, and a, “How are you doing girl?”
This man gave some of the best hugs. As a child, he loved having us over to spend the night and let us lose to play among his own children. He was a person who either got on your level or pulled you up to his (usually on a chair or couch right next to him).
His life experiences never brought him to hatred. Even those who he struggled with had a story or background which would evoke grace and understanding. He saw the best in people. He wanted you to succeed. He held you accountable but gave you a million chances.
He called my son Ford Edsel. Which he said, the last weekend we spent with him, he should probably stop doing because he didn’t want to give him a complex. (There is some car trivia for you to research).
He loved Jesus. His faith, instilled by his mother and her two-foot-thick Bible stacked with notes, was steadfast. Last thanksgiving, our yearly family reunion, we sat around him as he reflected on life and how good it has been to him. Hard, but good. How blessed he was by his wife, his kids, his grandkids, and how much he loved his family. How full he felt sitting there surrounded by those who loved him. But above all else, how thankful he was to God for his life. How full it’s been and how when the Lord says you are done… you trust him. Just as you’ve trusted him with everything else.
If you are wondering how it feels to hear someone give their own eulogy… it’s not fine.
But that’s truly what he was a master of. No matter how many tons of trash he picked up, toated, and disposed of in the greater Chicago area over his lifetime, he will always be remembered for his stories. He had perfected the craft. What stories to tell. What inflections to use. When to speed up and slow down. The body language. In an age where everyone’s heads were pinned to their screens and phones, my uncle was a pillar that held fast to the old way of passing along history. He was a true raconteur.
I would crave his stories as children. Even if we had no idea who they were about or what they meant, we would sit in awe as he told of how he was on vacation and ran into Mrs. so-and-so who was the daughter of a man that Aunt-so-and-so and had taught at the school just around the corner. Anyone who had any connection to garbage, the Dutch, the Dutch Reformed, the Deckingas, the Lanings, Chicago, Aurelio’s… they were instant family. You were now in his fold.
I am sure there are things I do not know about him as just a niece. Everyone’s perspectives are always different.
But I know that it was through him, and his five Dutch Reformed brothers raised in Engelwood, Il. by John and Anne, that the art of storytelling was imprinted in me. This weekend we lay to rest a husband, a father, a grandfather, a brother, an uncle… and a million stories he has told still being whispered in our memories.

This photo was taken the moment we said what we both knew would be our last goodbye. He gave me his usual hug. He looked at my husband trying to wrangle my kids into coats through the crowd of cousins and commented on how I have a good bunch. His last words to me as I walked through the screen door were, “I love you girl. Keep doin’ what you are doin’.”

What struck me in that moment were not the words he spoke. He didn’t say this because he had nothing else to say or as a trite cliche’ as we parted ways.

He said this having just talked about our adoption, and my writing, and my master’s degree. He wasn’t acknowledging my busyness or my parenting or my chaos.
He said this with a tilt of his head, a knowing glance, and a wink.
He wasn’t talking about the what.
He was talking about the why. Because his legacy is more than hauling trash around Chicago, his knowledge of garbage trucks, or having an affinity for McDonald’s.His legacy is written in the stories we will all hear this weekend told by people who he told stories about.
His legacy is in the interweaving of the relationships, the love he put into those relationships, and the faith that fueled that love planted in him by his mother.


* You can read my Unce’s book about the history of hauling trash and his stories of hauling trash free on Kindle: Every Stop has a Story.
It’s fascinating, but will never be as good as the in-person version.

2 responses to “Big O: The Storyteller whose side hustle was garbage.”

  1. My sisters & I were so thankful that we could spend time with our favorite Chicago cousins after Thanksgiving this year. The great stories & the fun we had that night. Owen was the most positive, loving, appreciative person anyone could have in their life. I’m so thankful for his book he signed & sent to me. I’m reading it now and just smile. He was quite a handful for Uncle John & Aunt Ann growing up but they would be so proud of the love he had for others and his Christian faith! Praying for your family during this difficult time.


    1. Thank you so much Judy. He truly was an amazing person and so steadfast in his faith.


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