A few weeks ago, the phone rang. All plans were set aside. The busy-ness on my ever-present “to-do” list suddenly became unimportant and I found myself hastily throwing a bag together and waiting in the airport for a seat on a flight to Oklahoma.
My husband’s Uncle Milt passed away. My Uncle Milt passed away.
We quickly decided I would be the one to go and be with the family for the funeral services and my husband would stay home with the boys (Sara is in Washington with my mom for a month). It might seem strange that I was the one to go when the loss was on my husband’s side of the family but that is the funny thing about family, love blurs the lines. And I loved my Uncle Milt so very much.
I first told you a little about Uncle Milt and Aunt Peggy last fall when I shared Aunt Peggy’s delicious corn casserole recipe with you. I told you a bit about their love story and what they came to mean to me so many years ago when I was a new military bride desperately missing my own family. And I briefly mentioned the banana pudding.
This is the first chance I have had to sit down and gather my thoughts after the five beautiful days I spent in Oklahoma (that busy list didn’t go away while I was away). And I am struggling a bit. It is hard to find the words to sum up this sweet man. To sum up what he meant to me; to so many. To sum up a life lived so well that left behind is a far-reaching legacy that winds its way through an entire family, binding together a wife of 56 years, four children and their spouses, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, cousins, sisters and brother-in-law, nieces and nephews. And me, married to a nephew but embraced as a daughter.
As I write, I remember that today is Aunt Peggy’s birthday and I am thankful that these words have waited until today. I can think of no better gift than to remind her of the blessing she and Uncle Milt have been in my life.
And it all started with banana pudding.
I don’t remember the exact moment I had Aunt Peggy’s banana pudding for the first time but it instantly became my absolute favorite thing in the universe. No exaggeration. Better than French fries.
And Uncle Milt quietly took notice.
We lived about 45 minutes away from Uncle Milt and Aunt Peg when my husband was stationed at Altus Air Force base. We spent a lot of weekends playing cribbage around their cozy dining room table; always Aunt Peg and I teamed up against Uncle Milt and my husband. Those boys like to think that they won most of the time but I don’t remember it quite that way. What I do remember is feeling loved and welcome. I remember missing my own family a whole lot less because Uncle Milt and Aunt Peg became like parents to us and their four children and their families like siblings.
So many times I walked through their front door to hear Uncle Milt quietly say “it must be ‘That Girl’! Go look in the fridge, you might find something in there for you.” Always there was a banana pudding waiting for me. If it wasn’t Aunt Peggy’s banana pudding, it was a Styrofoam container from Ryan’s Buffet heaped full of banana pudding that he had gone and gotten for me. He was a big man with a big presence and an even bigger heart and I adored him.
We were stationed in Oklahoma for only two years and too soon, it was time for us to move to Arizona where my husband would fly part-time for the National Guard and full-time for American Airlines. I was devastated to leave and cried most of the way through Texas. Life quickly took over and we didn’t see or talk with Uncle Milt and Aunt Peg nearly enough but the bond we had forged with them in that two years remains such a part of us.
Over the years, Uncle Milt’s health declined with the onset of Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s/Dementia. He eventually had to be placed in the Veteran’s Center where his growing needs could be met. Aunt Peg was right by his side everyday. Such love. Such an example.
I have heard it said that while Alzheimer’s may rob your loved one of his memory, what matters is that you remember. You remember.
I remember and was blessed to join this amazing family to celebrate the life of a man who meant the world to me. Cousin Jim’s sweet wife Yvonne even made a banana pudding for me shortly after I arrived and I jumped off of the gluten-free/sugar-free wagon with reckless abandon. Only for banana pudding. And I did stick five spoons in the bowl and share it. The only thing better than a big bowl of banana pudding all to yourself is a big bowl of banana pudding shared with five people you love.
We told stories, we laughed, we cried, we prayed and we rejoiced in the knowledge that Uncle Milt is restored and again whole in the arms of the Savior he spent his life glorifying.
I promise you Uncle Milt, I will remember.
And I will forever remember so many things about saying goodbye.
I will remember Uncle Chuck’s story about the anger he felt when his own father passed. A man poor in the pocket but rich in all the ways that matter. How he was unable to comprehend that the sum of a man’s life could end up a few papers and documents in a shoebox. It was you who showed him that the true sum of his father’s life was not in that shoebox but was in him and his four beautiful sisters. It was you who helped him to realize just how remarkable his own father was. He remembers.
I will remember Jim’s eulogy and the stories of a husband and father’s love and strength. Your wife and your children and their children remember.
I will remember the internment ceremony at the beautiful military cemetery that is your final resting place. I will remember the full military honors for a man and a career that included two tours in Korea and one in Vietnam. I will remember the cry of the bugler sounding TAPS as the wind gusted mightily and it was finished. All of your family remembers. And a grateful and free nation remembers.
I will see you again Uncle Milt. I know you will have the cribbage board waiting and I will smile to again hear “oh, here comes ‘That Girl’ – go look in the fridge, you might find something in there for you.” Until that day, I will remember.
Aunt Peggy’s Banana Pudding
It isn’t a fancy recipe. It isn’t a complicated recipe. But it is how someone very special shared with me just how much I meant to him. How he reminded me how much I was loved. I am happy to share it with you and hope that you will make if for someone you love.
- 1 – 3.4 ounce package of instant vanilla pudding
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 1/2 cups cold water
- 2 cups heavy cream, whipped
- 3 bananas, sliced
- 36-48 Vanilla Wafers
Whisk together the sweetened condensed milk and water. Add the instant vanilla pudding and whisk again until smooth and well blended. Chill the pudding mixture for 5 minutes.
The pudding mixture will be starting to set. Fold in the whipped cream.
Begin layering the ingredients …
Start with pudding,
add a layer of vanilla wafers
and then a layer of sliced bananas.
Top with more pudding, wafers and bananas and finish with pudding.
It is always pretty to have some of the wafers peaking through a glass bowl.
Top with crushed vanilla wafer crumbs. You can garnish with a few fresh banana slices and vanilla wafers just before serving.
Or dress up individual serving bowls. You can also eat it right out of a Styrofoam container. Whatever works for you!
When I got home from Oklahoma, I whipped up a batch for the girlfriends who had stepped up to take care of my boys for the two days I was gone and my husband had to work. One batch fit nicely into two 8×8 disposable pans.
Just layer in the same manner as above.
Top with vanilla wafer crumbs and pretty up the packaging and you will have a gift that is well received.
It is simple but it is my absolute favorite banana pudding. For many reasons. I hope you love it too!
Happy Birthday Aunt Peggy. I love you so much!
One final note, I am working on a gluten-free/sugar-free version. Right now, as we speak. I’m having a little trouble with the vanilla wafers but I am determined to eat this whenever I wish. Well the bananas will still be a splurge but not the end of the world. Stay tuned …