Essay People Who Influenced Me

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In less than a week, my family and I will sit down around the dinner table to celebrate Thanksgiving. As we bow our heads to bless the food in front of us, I know the one thing that will be on every one’s mind: the empty chair at the head of the table. Last year, the greatest man to ever walk this earth sat there, impatiently eyeing the fabulous buffet in front of him. This year, although we will all sit together, each of us will be alone with out Uncle Larry to fill our holiday with joy. There have been several people that walked through my life in my short seventeen years, but the one person that left behind a better me was my uncle Larry.

Sifting through memories with my mother, a tear always falls from her face onto the picture of a big man with an even bigger heart. My mom had just entered this world when her older sistered married Larry Dwayne Martel the first. From then on he was not her in-law, he was a brother, a friend, and at times a father to my mom. In terms of my life, Uncle Larry remained a constant influential figure. If he was not at home, I always knew I could find him at the lake, surrounded by all of his “friends”. These people were strangers to my family and I, but to Uncle Larry, there was no such thing as an unfamiliar person. On several occasions I watched my uncle welcome new people into his life without ever judging them. His warm, welcoming heart was so large that no matter who they were, he loved them. Unfortunately, his heart, one his most special aspects, was also the one thing that was slowly taking my uncle away from us. Uncle Larry had been through numerous heart attacks and had several heart surgeries. This was not enough to slow him down.

There is one memory that has remained clear throughout my life. I was about ten years old when Uncle Larry first took my brother and I fishing. I sat on that boat in the beating heat of the sun for hours watching my brother and him throw endless amounts of fish into the boat while my bobber remained motionless. Finally, I had enough. Just as I was reeling my line in and turning to throw my pole in the bottom of the boat, Uncle Larry’s booming voice startled me. I listened as he encouraged me to wait patiently and have faith in the water. I decided to try one last time just for my uncle’s satisfaction. I could not believe my eyes when my bobber shot underneath the surface of the glistening water and my fishing pole almost leaped out of my arms. Before I realized what was happening, I felt Uncle Larry’s large hands engulf mine as he helped me struggle to pull what seemed to be a monster fish in to the boat. The first words spoken when the huge fish was flopping at our feet were from my uncle, “I told you! I knew you could do it!” The fish I caught was the biggest Lake Livingston had ever seen, and for that, I got my picture in the paper right beside Uncle Larry and my fish.

Today, when my fingertips run across the aged remains of the newspaper clipping, I travel back in time to that hot summer day and remember Uncle Larry’s words of advice. Seven years later, I can still hear his voice any time I want to give up on something. Uncle Larry’s heart finally got the best of him. A heart attack took his life at the young age of fifty-two. As hard as it was to bare, my family and I sat side-by-side at the cemetary and watched as our favorite person was lowered into the ground. A year later, we will all gather together again, but this time there will be smiles on our faces because although his chair is empty, Uncle Larry is still with us for Thanksgiving, just like every day.



I think you devote too much space here to eulogizing your uncle for his magnanimity and too little to clarifying his influential role in your life. The least compelling part of the essay for me is when the eulogizing takes the form of assertions about the general magnificence of your uncle. If Uncle Larry really were the greatest man in the history of humanity, of course, I would be the first to condemn my fellow man for allowing such a creature to die in relative obscurity, and would be thrilled to learn of him now, but presumably the unexaggerated fact of the matter is that he didn't conquer vast swaths of the known world, like Alexander or Caesar, or free the Indian subcontinent from imperial oppression, like Gandhi, but rather that he was very important to the people who knew him.

The problem with exaggeration is not only the incredulity it invokes in the reader (which can impact the reception even of what is simply and literally true in a work) but also the fact that exaggerated effects are achieved at the risk of grotesqueness. For example, if you want to explain how your uncle was a wonderful guy to have around, you can tell a nice little anecdote about the time he took you fishing; if you want to communicate the unsurpassed greatness of your uncle, however, you need to start talking about weird stuff like the extraordinary size of his internal organs. Of course, on the one hand, I'm being grotesque myself here in pretending that when you speak of the size of the heart you are speaking literally; on the other hand, the same grotesque confusion appears in the essay when you segue (without, dare it say it, skipping a beat) from the figurative to the literal, from the heart as the imaginary seat of indiscriminate generosity to the heart as the all-too-real site of a fatal disease.

If you're still reading, you may have noticed that I implied above that I liked the anecdote about the fishing trip. That's the kind of real, concrete experience that can reasonably serve as evidence of the nature of your uncle's influence on you. Your articulation of the nature of that influence, however, remains vague. I take it that you want to reader to infer more than the fact that your uncle thought you to be a patient fisher; I take it, in other words, that the lessons you learned and carry with you as a result of sharing part of your life with such a person are more numerous and more general than that. You could take advantage of the space afforded you by deleting the stuff that is vague and almost grotesque to say a little more about those real lessons. It is better to explain (even dispassionately) the kinds of things you do or decisions you make or goals that you have that you think are attributable to your uncle's influence than to utter banalities about his big heart making you a better person.

Best, EJ

Submitted by: chat1819

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