By Leslie Criss/NEMS Daily Journal
“God’s finger touched him and he slept.”
– Lord Alfred Tennyson
“For the dead there are no more toils.”
“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
– Kahlil Gibran
His final gift to me was a giant sour pickle. A Van Holten’s Hot Mama pickle in a pouch. He knew I loved all things sour, as did he.
But he did not know the Hot Mama is one of my favorite pickles these days.
I’d written a column about my dad’s three brothers – my three uncles – several months ago when we learned the youngest of the four Criss brothers had late-stage cancer.
It’s important, I’ve learned, to let folks know how you feel about them while they are still around to understand.
I’m told my cousins read my words about my uncles to Uncle John several times before he left this world.
When we gathered in our hometown of Grenada in late May to bury John in the family plot, my Uncle Jim, the next to oldest, commented on the column.
“I feel like I need to give you something for that article you did,” he said. “It was nice.”
And then he gave me a giant pickle. I thanked him and brought it back to Tupelo with me. It’s in a basket on my kitchen counter.
My uncle Jim died last Sunday. If death is ever really expected, I suppose his was. Sort of.
I’d heard stories all my life about his delivery 77 years ago, by my great-grandfather Dr. Criss. My grandmother always talked about how little James McRae Criss was blue when he was born and Dr. Criss saved his life. A few heart issues reared their heads in years past, including the diagnosis of an aortic aneurysm.
But he was also a tough old bird and didn’t let his health issues send him to his recliner to wait for the end.
A CPA, he continued to do folks’ taxes; he kept on lawyering when needed; he grew good fruit and vegetables on the farm he shared with his daughter Julia and her family; he cooked and enjoyed good food; and he continued to take great pride in teasing me whenever he saw me – something that began more than 50 years ago when I was just a little girl.
That same little girl in me well remembers the saltwater aquariums my uncle had. He also raised sea horses, and his knowledge of it all intrigued and impressed me.
He was a good son and a good brother; he was a good dad to his three children and two grandsons; and he was a good uncle.
He will long be missed.
And when the time is right in the days to come, I will open my giant sour pickle, my Uncle Jim’s last gift to me, and I will enjoy the heck out of it.
In his memory.
And in his honor.