December 6, 2017. Today would have been my Uncle Jeffrey’s 55th birthday. Unfortunately, God called him home three months ago and my familial dynamic has been very different.
I knew I was speaking at my uncle’s memorial service; I wasn’t quite sure what I’d say. He was a street guy, so there were many things I wanted to say that would have been inappropriate in a church. So I wrote them all down:
Can I kick it? Well, I’m gone…
Friends, family, and acquaintances: you are waiting for me to finally say one thing and one thing only; so we will all say it together: Chad, you look just like your uncle.
Second only to “I can’t with you,” the phrase “Chad you look just like Jeff” is the most popular phrase I hear regularly. Walking down the street, a lady walked up to me, kissed me on the cheek, and said “Hey Jeff!” I didn’t want to make her feel bad by saying “I’m his nephew.”
It is difficult to speak in Grace United Methodist Church about Jeffrey Mumford without there being some “Murdock Ave” moments in this eulogy. Also, humor is my coping mechanism; I just want to get that out of the way before I get started.
There are times in which my mother cannot stand me because I remind her of my father. On the other hand, my mother and I get along very well because I remind her of her brother.
I am a lot like my uncle. We’re both Sagittarius’s, tall, charming, funny, and have a tapered haircut with curls, a mustache and goatee that don’t connect because Mumford men are babyfaces…and forgetful (word to the beef I had with him when I was six years old when he borrowed my Mickey Mouse watch and I had to ask him incessantly for it back).
All jokes aside, I looked up to my uncle. He was cool; he was respected in the streets, and just had an aura about him. My earliest memories of him are him mixing records and my grandmother’s basement, looping the break in “Yes We Can, Can,” by the Pointer Sisters, over and over. He was the person in my family that was hip hop and I loved that.
We shared an affinity for getting into trouble for marching to the beat of our own drum with a disruptive cadence. On elementary school field trips, I was the kid that needed his own chaperone; and Uncle Jeffrey was the one that would come along (and all the girls thought he was so cute); we’d have a great time, too.
The day before my first baseball game, right over there at Peter’s Field off Liberty Ave, he took me in my grandmother’s back yard, drew home plate on the ground with a crayon, and showing me how to swing when someone is pitching the ball.
My uncle was that uncle; the wild uncle that said and did fairly crazy shit. Nonetheless, that was part of what made him charismatic. Somewhere between nature and nurture, I picked a lot up from him. As a teenager, we would drive around Queens and he taught me valuable lessons my parents couldn’t; that’s what uncles do.
With the latest mixtapes as the soundtrack, we drove around South and Northside Jamaica, and he would tell me about his life while dropping gems. I learned how to roll a blunt from my uncle, what to roll one with (Never use papers or Philly’s. Dutches-NY for Dutch Masters cigars-burn slower); as well as how to properly smoke weed while driving (You keep a slight crack in the driver’s side window. It blows directly out the window like a vent and doesn’t smell up the car)….I didn’t smoke weed at the time; but those words wound up being useful information at another point in my life. My uncle was the first person to let me hold a gun and taught me how to shoot using a beebe gun in my grandmother’s basement (those holes are still in the wall).
During our walks and drives, he would tell me stories about his adult life. He knew how much we were alike and felt as if telling me was a second chance for him to do what he chose not to. “Let me tell you about hoes…” was his way of informing me that women can be a distraction and loyalty to one was more important (“But if you do, strap up,” he’d say). He would tell me to stay away from drugs by giving me his encounters with wise words such as “Withdrawal is a bitch.”
My uncle was a street guy and I picked up some of his nuances. In no way am I a street guy; but I know how to conduct myself in that manner. It’s the underlying edge I have that every once in a while slips out and I say some fairly hood shit…I’ve seen girlfriends of mine who didn’t know that side of me at all scrunch up their face in disbelief and ask “What did you just say?!”
We’re both frustratingly nonchalant and made a joke out of everything. The stoic face was-and is-the setup for a hilarious punchline we’d say out of the corner of our mouths if you were close enough to hear it. As recently as Easter Sunday, we joked around, saying that if we didn’t make fun of you, we’re not really your friend.
Hip hop was our covalent bond. We listened to A Tribe Called Quest a lot (my second beef in life with him was at 16, when I had to repeatedly ask “Can I have my anthology CD back?!). He knew Kid Hood from the “Scenario Remix.” Hood told my uncle he got on the record and was killed the next day. He told me how he’d played ball with Tribe at St. Albans Park, Phife sucked, and my uncle busted his ass. So I guess the last thing I have to say is I hope he makes it his business to catch up to Kid Hood and tear Phife up in that rematch.
But now for what we’ve all been waiting for: I was driving the other day, with my cap not fully on my head and cocked to the back, and my glasses on as I rapped along to whatever I was listening to. I was finally able to admit to myself “Damn, I look like my uncle.”