‘Every family has one … And Archie was that guy in our family … That uncle.’
I spoke in my loudest and most sincere voice to about 50 people whom I didn’t know. I’d met a few of them in years past but I couldn’t have recognized them on the street. Nor would I register with them. Yet there I stood, telling them about a man that they knew much better than I.
December 6, 2014 was a beautiful day for a memorial service. A slight breeze accompanied a temperature in the mid-50s with nary a cloud in the sky over Lamar County, Texas.
He could hold his own in any adult conversation as I recall, but chose to spend his time entertaining his young niece and nephew.
Dad had become the lone survivor of his immediate family days prior. His younger brother – that uncle – was found collapsed on a sidewalk in Paris, Texas, the victim of a heart attack.
I knew Archie Dee Holland as a seemingly intelligent man with a child-like demeanor. I remember our occasional Sunday drives to Mamaw’s home – my dad, sister and myself. Archie, though he was in his 40s and 50s, still lived there with his mother. He could hold his own in any adult conversation as I recall, but chose to spend his time entertaining his young niece and nephew. Even when it came time to sit down at the table for Mamaw’s chicken & dumplings, Uncle Archie had to be corrected (often by my dad) for not being settled down from our rambunctious play.
I remember overhearing Mamaw complaining to my father that Archie used her clothes dryer for a single pair of socks and always managed to scrape up money for cigarettes, despite that he spent most of his life unemployed. At a family reunion once, Archie came decked in brown leather dress shoes that he’d tried to re-color with white shoe polish. It was a fashion faux pas of epic proportions. And yet, he didn’t seem to care.
Yes. Archie was that uncle. And I was charged with speaking about him just moments before his older brother buried his ashes between the graves of his mother and father.
In the week prior to the service, I sat down with my dad and shot question after question his way. I knew the story about how Dad purposely slowed his car on a rope-suspended bridge somewhere in Arkansas just to get a rise out of his kid brother. I knew that Archie had served in the U.S. Navy during Vietnam and was named Archie because someone offered my papaw a few dollars for the honor. Speaking to my father didn’t yield much more for me, except that Archie had been set to sing with his church choir on December 7 – the day following his funeral.
I told the crowd everything positive that I knew … all that I could muster from my memory and recent interviews of Dad. And then I asked them to step forward with their own words. Not only did these strangers save the day for an accidental eulogist, their words and the honest emotion behind them allowed me to know my Uncle Archie.
‘Archie was just Archie,’ I heard many of them say.
The Archie they described helped a disabled man get to a veterans’ hospital and receive the benefits he was entitled to, but was previously denied. That same Archie, apparently countless times, remained true to his word that he would be there whenever needed. Being Archie meant that he gave many people his only dollar and – literally – the shirt from his back. Archie, as it turns out, was very involved in his church, having sought nothing but spiritual enrichment.
And Archie’s sense of humor was more than I would’ve ever imagined. One man – a lifelong friend – admitted to thinking that Archie’s middle name was Delano (after FDR). Archie had apparently maintained the story of his name for decades, probably never realizing that his punchline would be delivered in the form of a memorial service program written by his distant nephew.
Yeah, Archie was that uncle.
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Big breakfasts around the Holland House are just slightly more frequent than a blue moon. But Christmas is one of those rare days. Most years there are at least two meats, eggs, biscuits, gravy, homemade scrapple, potatoes, pancakes … you name it. The 2014 Christmas spread was different at the request of my baby girl, who wanted overnight French Toast, or something similar.
Crème Brûlée French Toast is as decadent as it sounds. Creamy. Crunchy. And even a little gooey. It could be served as a dessert with fresh fruit, but is also an indulgent way to break the overnight fast. Serve it with salty bacon or spicy sausage for a nice contrast of flavors. No syrup required.
Crème Brûlée French Toast
1 loaf – Italian or French bread (about 1 lb), preferably stale
5 – Large eggs, beaten
3 TB – Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
2 tsp – Vanilla
2 tsp – Ground Cinnamon
1 tsp – Ground Nutmeg
1 tsp – Kosher salt
1 cup – Heavy Cream
1 cup – Milk
1 cup (packed) – Light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) – Butter
Slice bread into 1-inch-thick slices and place in a large baking dish or rimmed cookie sheet. Combine next 8 ingredients; pour evenly over bread; cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator overnight, turning them over at least an hour or so before baking.
Preheat oven to 375F.
In a small saucepan, melt butter. Add brown sugar and combine.
On a large rimmed baking sheet or jellyroll pan, spread brown sugar mixture evenly. (I use a Silicone spatula for this step.) Place soaked bread slices atop brown sugar mixture. Bake until tops are golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. (Sugar mixture should also be bubbling nicely at this point.) Serve immediately – sugar side-up.