My father’s half-brother, Ralph L. Heiser, was born 15 Jun 1923. He and my dad had the same father (Daniel Wilbert Heiser) but different mothers.
Ralph was ten years younger than my dad, and they didn’t know each other well. You see, Ralph was raised by their father and his second wife, but my dad was raised by the first wife’s parents. (That’s a story for another week.)
I don’t think I ever called him Uncle Ralph but simply Ralph. I always knew he wasn’t a regular grown-up but more like a boy in a man’s body. It was much later in my life that I came to understand what made Ralph that way.
On one of our rare visits to Jacobus, Pennsylvania to visit my dad’s father, I noticed there was fair or a picnic or something going on in the field behind the church across the road from my grandfather’s house.
I’m sure I asked my mom about going, but what I remember was my grandfather’s reply, “Ralph can take her. Everyone knows him. She’ll be alright.” Amazingly my mother let me go.
Such freedom I felt as I walked across the field with this man-child. I barely remember anything about the event at the church.
What I remember is Ralph – his almond eyes and his easy laugh. He wasn’t tall like my father or grandfather, but still I felt safe with him. I stayed right with him, and he stayed right with me. It was like being with a big brother or an older cousin. Warm feelings still come to me when I think of that day.
Ralph died 14 Feb 1968 at age 44. I was eight years old, and I remembered enough about him to be sad about his passing. He’d had a very high fever and went into shock. An autopsy was performed, but the cause of the fever wasn’t identified. The doctor suspected a kidney infection.
My dad said that Ralph had hallucinated when he was sick, that he mistook a hose for a snake. I imagined Ralph in my mind, the man-child that he was, screaming and pointing at a hose thinking it was snake and how frightened he must have been.
Ralph and my grandfather are buried side-by-side in a cemetery in Jacobus. They share a stone, but the death date for Ralph is wrong. It says 1958 instead of 1968. I still don’t understand why people don’t have gravestones corrected when the date is wrong.
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