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When I was a child, my uncle's tender arms were reassuring. I would sit in his lap and feel his strong heart beating against my back. At the age of six he found me in a hospital charity ward recovering from a tonsilectomy. Without a word he scooped me up in his arms and carried me to a private room that he had arranged.
As I grew older it was his strong arms that rescued me from a tractor accident, saving my life.
My uncle Estus was not my biological father, but he was my real father in every sense of the word. He taught me christian principles by example. He explained to me that a man's word was his bond, a principle I later found that most people had not learned when I became president of a bank. He taught me to fish, to hunt, to swim, and to work. He taught me to drive at the age of twelve, and bought me my first car when I was fifteen. When I returned home from college after my freshman year, he said, "Boy, you're wearing out more cars than you are books."
I went to live with my uncle and aunt at an early age. They had no children. They cared for my every need, gave me a wonderful home and a college education. Above all, my uncle gave me unconditional love. When I told him I wanted to be an artist he said he didn't know if I could make a living drawing, but sign painters did pretty well. He wanted me to take over his cattle business.
I was a grown man, married, with children of my own when my uncle Estus was taken to the Baptist Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi. Before I entered his room, I was told he would not last long. His tired, withered arms reached out for me. I cradled him in mine and held him tightly until he slipped away.