As a little girl, I enjoyed hosting tea parties for my dolls. If I could wrangle an adult to join me at my child sized table, that was even better. Most of the grown-ups, however, had more to do than pause for a moment and pretend to take a sip of pretend tea from one of my small cups. My Uncle Raymond Neely, however, he took the time to participate. He gave the appearance of drinking tea and eating cookies, real or pretend.

Before any one decides I was a total girlie girl, he also taught me to read raccoon tracks in the woods. When I received much coveted walkie-talkies as a Christmas gift one year, Uncle Raymond was game to grab one and see how far we could communicate.

In greeting, he would pick me up and lift me high as I squealed and giggled. He drove a pick-up truck and he wore blue jeans with plaid shirts.

At family picnics, he would head into the woods on the edges of the park to show me things like those raccoon prints or a hidden spring.

I don't know if anyone else remembers Socker-Boppers, a kid version of boxing gloves that were inflatable. The idea was kids could play fight without any real damage. I wanted some but my mom said no. On Christmas morning, though, Uncle Raymond arrived with Socker-Boppers as my gift. My younger brother and me had fun with those things.

Uncle Raymond lived on a road that traveled along the top of the Missouri River bluffs.

The landscape was lovely but there were dangers. Once my mother and I set out down a path to do a little morel hunting one spring. We paused when we heard a very near rattlesnake sounding off and although we never saw that one, we stood still until the rattling ceased, then backtracked to the car.

I saw my first tornado in the clouds at Uncle Raymond's house. He pointed it out to me and I was afraid. Always patient, he explained they often formed above the river and that one, as long as it remained in the clouds, wouldn't hurt anything. It didn't but ironically after moving to Southwest Missouri a few years later, our home was destroyed by a major tornado but that's another story.

Uncle Raymond went to powwows as often as he could. His dark hair and tan skin indicated our shared Native American heritage, not as evident in me.

He became ill with tuberculosis and spent some time at the Missouri State Chest Hospital in Mount Vernon. I wrote him two letters, which he carried with him and showed off to anyone who stopped long enough.

He died when I was sixteen, on a summer's day and although many years have passed, I miss him still.

Uncle Raymond was born on January 27 so this week and always, I remember my uncle.

-Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy is the community editor for The Neosho Daily News and The Aurora Advertiser. She writes a weekly Writer's View column.