Tribute to a Great Man · 16 August 2014

Photo courtesy of Drew Matsushima

A great person died this week. Not Lauren Bacall or Robin Williams. They were great actors. They contributed much to their craft. But to judge greatness you need to know a person. You need to spend time with him or her. You need to have a relationship and know the kinds of relationships the person had with others. I did not know Ms. Bacall or Mr. Williams so I must let those who did judge their greatness. But I knew my uncle, and Uncle Hank was indeed a great man.

We can immediately see the reaction to any news in this age of social media. Facebook and Twitter were inundated with images of Bacall and Williams this week. People posted memories of the great actors’ works and the feelings they evoked.

The passing of Uncle Hank had a more personal feel. It seemed all my relatives posted new profile pictures. Ones with them and Uncle Hank. I felt remiss that I did not have any pictures like that. That I had missed out on one of those simple but amazing tributes.

Then, I read a moving tribute by my cousin’s son, Drew. He talked about the qualities Uncle Hank showed with all people. His generosity. His thoughtfulness. His time. And he blessed our uncle with the highest compliment when he said that Uncle Hank was another grandpa to him.

Again, I felt out of the loop. I too had written about some of my memories, but it had been so long since I had been in close contact with Uncle Hank. We had lived too far apart for too long. But Drew’s tribute helped me realize that Uncle Hank was still the great man he had always been, and that I could continue with my own tribute.

Our Auntie Sachi would say that Uncle Hank was a great man because he put up with her for so many years. I would argue with her that he was a great man because he brought up three wonderful sons, Danny, Andy, and Derrick. He was great because he imparted happiness into all the lives he had been around. He was great because he was loving, thoughtful, and kind. He was great because he gave people his ear and his time, and sometimes his sage advice. But I would also agree with Auntie Sachi. He was great because he put up with her for all those years.

Uncle Hank was always smiling and happy. Looking back over all the years, I can only remember Uncle Hank being sad once. When Danny died. I am sure there were other times when he was not the smiling Uncle Hank that we all know and love. But they must have been few and far between or he kept it all behind closed doors because I do not remember him doing anything but smiling. And giving that smile to others. We will all miss that thin grin. That mischievous smile. We will miss him giving that same grin to each of us. Even when we did not want it. Nobody could be sad when Uncle Hank was around. Thankfully, we will still be able to see it in Andy and Derrick. And we will still see the Auntie Sachi version too.

One of my fondest memories of Uncle Hank is of just hanging out at their house on Hoyt Street long, long ago. (I even think that most of it is true and not just part of the trick that time can play on our minds.)

We kids were young and had been playing all day in the yard. Toward the end of the day, Danny had made up some basketball game so that our younger siblings could play too. Uncle Hank and Dad came outside and watched for a while. I do not remember all the details, but not long after they came outside to watch, Dad and Uncle Hank started shooting with us.

Naturally, we ended up playing PIG. We were all competitive that way. The old guys gave us a run for our money, shooting all sorts of crazy shots. Short shots, long shots, layups, and probably even some behind the back shots. Maybe I was just young and naïve and did not know that parents could do physical things like play basketball, but Uncle Hank was making everything. He was amazing.

Then came the shot of all shots.

It was the winning shot to get Danny out (or my mind is playing one of those time tricks and melding memories together). I remember watching in amazement as Uncle Hank walked out to a spot, kept facing away from the basket, and without looking back, tossed up a shot that went right through the hoop. Swish. He did not even look after it went in. My dad chuckled while all of us kids moaned.

Danny was up to try to make the shot and stay in the game. Being a stickler for rules, when Danny tried to look back before shooting, Uncle Hank made him start again. He made him walk up to the line and toss the basketball backward without looking, just as he had done. Danny glanced over at all of us watching trying to get a little encouragement before he walked up to the line and threw the ball up toward the hoop. He missed and we all groaned again. But we still had a little hope. Since he was knocking Danny out, he had to prove it. He had to do the exact same shot again. So Uncle Hank walked to the same spot, never looked back, and threw the basketball up. If the scene had been in a movie, the shot would have been in slow motion taking its time as the camera followed the ball’s arc. It would have shown the faces of all us kids looking on in anticipation and amazement. But as it was, the ball just went through the hoop. Swish. Again. Uncle Hank still did not look. He just grinned.

I will miss Uncle Hank. I will miss his kind words. I will miss his listening ear. I will miss just sitting at the same table with him taking in all that goes on, sometimes offering a word or two. Sometimes just smiling. I will miss that mischievous smile.

Uncle Hank may not be remembered by the rest of the world like Lauren Bacall or Robin Williams. There will be no nightly news coverage of his passing. But his family and friends noted it with poignant tributes and loving hearts on social media and in person. And we will all remember him long after the tributes are gone.

I mourn along with all of Uncle Hank’s family and friends. We are sad to see you go. But we are all thankful that we got to live, even if just for a short time, in the presence of a great man.

© 2014 Michael T. Miyoshi

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