RIP Uncle Larry, auctioneer and cattleman

RIP Uncle Larry, auctioneer and cattleman

They waited 45 minutes to get into Larry Lowe’s wake Friday night and word was that some had to give up, get out of the cold and just go home.

Larry was my dad’s brother, from a big family who farmed the black dirt of northeast Nebraska, up on the rolling green hills of the Missouri River where Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota meet.

I thought of Larry as the unofficial mayor of Ponca, population 946, probably because when you drive into town there has always been that sign above his white barn: “Larry Lowe, auctioneer.”

You don’t see many guys like Larry around small towns anymore. He sold cattle at the Yankton and Sioux City stockyards for 53 years, buying a dozen head here, another lot of six there, all from family farmers. This was before the cattle business got big, with the animals now raised in acres of feedlots and slaughtered by the thousands every day at factory-sized meatpacking plants.

The priest saying the wake remembered Larry as an auctioneer and cattleman.

“Larry was a good man,” Father Andrew said.

Larry’s oldest son, Brad, told the packed crowd at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church Friday night that Larry was a storyteller, an athlete and could take “a good measure of horseflesh.”

Larry was always ready with a joke, cracking himself up so hard he’d ball up his fists and rub both eyes. He had nicknames for most of us and little songs for some of us. Me? I was Hootenanny Peggy Annie Saturday Night, always sung.

He played football and boxed for the high school back in 1953, despite coming in around a buck 25, Brad said. Yep, I’ve seen the pictures of that 125 pounds of skinny in satin shorts.

He met Louise early, fell in love with this pretty Irish girl and married her, having four equally funny and handsome boys. There was a gaggle of grandchildren filling the front pews of the church.

Brad told us good stories about his dad, getting the biggest laugh when he said there was a rumor going around that Larry was frivolous with money. Heck, dad said, everyone knew Larry was tighter than bark on a tree.

He rarely strayed from town and complained that a trip to Des Moines was clear across the country. You could set your watch by him, Brad said, so at 4:15 a.m. he was at Cook’s Country Store getting coffee. By 8:30 he and Louise were at Mass.  

And that’s why they knew something was up last week on that day Larry didn’t want to go to the Country Store for coffee. Didn’t want to go to church, either. Louise rushed him to Sioux City to the hospital, where hours later he had a heart attack. He was 79 years old.

“It’s a sad day for us, but don’t feel sorry for us,” Brad said. “Larry Lowe lived a good life.”

We raised a few beers for Larry at McArdle’s after the wake. Then did as we always do, got up with foggy heads the next day, put on our good clothes and went back to St. Joseph’s. People crowded in, standing at the back of the church and then spilling into the basement to listen on the loud speaker.

We got in our cars and followed the hearse out to South Creek Cemetery, where we buried Larry next to his brother Joe, under a headstone that has Louise’s name on it, too. Dad said he and mom’s marker was a little ways off, under a tree, ready.

I’ve always read that the Irish are clannish and we could certainly be described that way. We stick together. But our little secret is this: we actually like each other, which I know some families can’t say. 

So rest in peace, Uncle Larry. Thanks for what you’ve left behind. And dang, what a nice send-off you missed.

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