Mad for…Don

When all the dust is settled and all the crowds are gone, the things that matter are faith, family and friends. (Barbara Bush)

He was raised by a Dutchman who was partnered up with an Irish spit fire. This, I have concluded is the reason why my Uncle Don is an ornery human. Ralph and Pauline (Holladay) Dykhuizen had two children, my uncle Don and my dad, Jim. Don is the older of the two, and I am told he was quite an athlete. Grandma used to share newspaper clippings with me, and she was a story teller too. She was so incredibly proud of her sons. I have no doubt Uncle Don could throw a baseball, among other talents, because his sassy mom made sure her grandchildren knew all about it! His little brother is my Dad. These two guys are both smart-alecky, wise-cracking, and very ornery humans. It seems to be a genetic predisposition.

Don married a pretty fantastic human, Carolyn Surface, and the union endures. They are pictured above with their grandson, Connor. They had two children, Joe and Amy. My sister and I used to travel to New Castle with our parents to watch Joe play football and Amy cheer for the New Castle High School Trojans. I remember their house on Forest Drive, near the school, and the fact that they had a super cool pinball machine in the basement. Joe and his friends were friendly, but smelly, and Amy always had a drawer full of trinkets and trash and a lot of makeup that I thought was pretty much awesome! As for my aunt and uncle, I recall them smiling and laughing a lot. There were many joy-filled Christmas mornings opening presents in that tiny house of Grandma’s on Vinton St. too, where we all wondered what on earth could be inside that package Aunt Helen brought! She never failed to disappoint, am I right? Those are happy memories of times spent together and I cherish them.

When we lost Joe, way too young, to cancer…well…things changed. How could they not? I’m happy to report though that Don Dykhuizen still has his ornery little twinkle in tact. Just last week, in fact, he told me that he had called the Pope in an effort to get my husband Tom declared a saint for putting up with me these past 25 years. That was his “Dykhuizen” way of saying “Happy Anniversary”. It made me laugh. He apparently thinks I’m a stinker. I’ve got news for this guy. It takes one to know one, Uncle Don!

He’s a football, basketball, baseball sort of “old school” guy who even trudged over to Guerin Catholic a few times to watch Nick and Drew play a little football, and we always were thrilled to see him and Aunt Carolyn too. It’s true our family has grown and we have gone in different directions, but our roots are still our roots. He’s a supportive Dad and grandfather who is now having fun watching his own two youngest grandsons, Joe and Jake Strickland, do their thing, and I’d bet there’s not a lot better than that for this passionate lover of sports!

Life can be tough sometimes, but a supportive and fun-loving family is so incredibly important. That’s what I remember when I think of my growing up years around my uncle and all the Dykhuizen clan. Once when I was a kid, my sister and I were playing euchre against Grandpa and Uncle Don. We weren’t very old at the time but Robin and I were trouncing them. They kept looking at each other like, “What the heck is going on here? How are we losing to two little girls?” To teach them a little lesson in humility, Dad had taught us how to send each other signals by the way we held the cards. The signals were so hard to spot because they had been employed, quite illegally, in some professional card tournament which Dad apparently read about. Eventually, we confessed to the trickery, but we still laugh about this silliness years later!!

Here’s the thing I’m overdue to say. Uncle Don has endured through what to me seems unthinkable. I have three sons so I understand better than I did earlier what that loss means. However, he continued to do his day. He walked forward. Sometimes, he was strong and sure, and other times it was more halting and stumbling. But he never stopped putting one foot in front of the other. When I saw him, he still shared his teasing and his sarcasm and gave me a big hug. He may not know it, but as he’s run his race, others around him were watching…and it helped others be brave in their lives.

I still miss Joe too. He was special, and feisty, and a big teddy bear…kind of like his dad. Uncle Don? I’m proud to be your niece and I love you. You are smart and funny and your perseverance through difficulty is inspiring. I’ve made my call to the Vatican as well, though. The real saint is your bride, ha? I’m sure we’ll be hearing from Pope Francis about Aunt Carolyn’s canonization any time now.

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)