There are certain people that come into our lives and forever change them for the better. They become a part of our most fond memories, mold and shape us into who we are, inspire us to rise up, to be better. My Uncle Steve was one of those people. You were better for knowing him and forever blessed to be loved by him. On Tuesday, he lost his battle with cancer but gained the ultimate reward, his key to eternity.
Uncle Steve was an engineer on the railroad for BNSF his entire adult working life, where he was referred to as "Mack." He spent countless clumps of time away on runs providing for Aunnie and his son, Jason, working a job that he truly loved. He missed countless holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries, but always made sure to make the absolute best of the time he had with family. He was the kind of dad any kid could dream up and the kind of husband any boy would love to become.
Although we always lived out of state, my childhood is riddled with memories of Uncle Steve. My parents would put me on a plane and send me off to Minnesota where I spent weeks with Aunnie and Uncle in the summer. Some of my fondest memories from childhood are the ones I spent visiting them. He made me feel like I was important and special, always remarked on how beautiful I was or how proud he was of me, and never failed to tell me he loved me. He truly had the kindest heart and loved with every inch of it.
He was endlessly funny, smoked like a chimney, and loved his Bacardi and Coke. He adored playing cards and games and could often be found sitting at his basement bar or in his den watching his beloved Minnesota Twins or Green Bay Packers (I choose to forgive him for that last one). He would sign greeting cards with doodles of smiley faces smoking cigarettes and write witty little poems to fit your season of life. His one liners are forever etched in my memory and I'm positive I owe him at least a pack of Camel Lights from my smoking days. For a lack of better terms, "he was quick with a joke or a light of your smoke."
Over the years of Bryan and I being together, him and Uncle Steve grew the most wonderful relationship. Upon arriving at their house when we visited, the two of them didn't waste any time before retreating to the basement bar where they would play cribbage and discuss life. Bryan had the opportunity to have some of the most beautiful talks with Uncle Steve, his last one on our last trip to Minnesota in September. When we got the news on Monday of his passing, Bryan told me that Uncle Steve was one of the most influential men in his life; a true testament to how quickly he grew on people and how easy he was to love.
In marrying into the Schuster family, he had to grow incredibly thick skin. Aunnie adored tormenting him in any way she could, being sure to keep him on his toes. He was easily grossed out by just about everything so there was always ammunition for her. Their marriage was built on a strong foundation of banter and humor and they always gave onlookers a good laugh; I'll never forget the fun they had at each other's expense. The marriage the two of them had was one that I looked to as an example of what I wanted some day.
For seven years, he defied odds and lived with platelet numbers lower than any doctor could fathom. I firmly believe that was because it took that long for the most special of places to be made ready for him at the table in heaven. In those seven years he continued to bless everyone around him with his eternally optimistic outlook on life, his gracious heart, and his infectious kindness. To have known Mack was to have been forever blessed.
While I am positive he isn't lounging in heaven with a Camel Light in one hand and a Bacardi and Coke in the other, I like to think that up there, spaghetti dinners are served with baked potatoes and they play cribbage for hours on end. Uncle Smoke, you have forever impacted my life and the lives of so many others and abundantly changed us all for the better. It is my greatest wish that I can live each day with just a little Steve Mackner in my soul so as to continue sharing all of the good that was you. Fly high, Uncle Steve, on eagle's wings! Until we meet again.