John Lawrence Muellner wore many hats. Literally. I mean, he has a hat on in half of those pictures. He was stylish like that. But I’m pretty sure that was partially thanks to my Aunt Maggie. Jokes aside, he was indeed, a jack of all trades. Actor. Director. Musician. Loving husband and father. Uncle and brother. Cousin and Son. Vietnam Veteran. Woodworker. He had a sweet tooth (which must be some sort of Muellner gene because I have it too). Co-inventor of the pain game. Oregon Duck fan. Chicago Cubs fan. Creator of the name Pie-Eyed Pizzeria. Someone who will be truly missed by many.
A few weeks ago, someone sent me this quote from an unknown author; “Sometimes I wish I were a little kid again, skinned knees are easier to fix than broken hearts.” Ain’t that the truth?
I’d like to thank all of you for coming today to celebrate the life of John Lawrence Muellner. He was my uncle, my mentor, and my friend.
A couple years ago for Christmas, my parents gave me a big container just filled with things they had collected as I grew up. Pictures, report cards, art projects. So, a little over a year ago, I felt the urge to go through everything, piece by piece. I found a note that I must have missed before, that my Uncle Larry sent me in 1989, when we lived in our old house on Lamon. Little did I know that at 3 years old, that little piece of paper with a few words written on it would mean so much to me as an adult. I don’t remember what it came with, but I am so thankful I have that little piece of paper now. It says, “To Lauren of Lamon. With Deepest Admiration, Your fan and uncle, Larry Da Mule.” That piece of paper is something I will treasure the rest of my life.
I mentioned that my uncle Larry was the co-inventor of the Pain Game. Let me explain a bit what that was. The object of the game was to come up with the most creative way to inflict a small amount of physical pain and/or annoyance on another player. There were specific rules to follow. Obviously, it had to be creative and original. It couldn’t be mean spirited because it was all in good fun. For example, a good 20 seconds of pinching someone’s cheeks. It actually sounds sort of barbaric, now that I actually explain it. But man, it was hilarious. I would rarely participate but I ALWAYS liked to watch and laugh. In the beginning, the rule was if you were in the room, you had to participate. But who could say no to this face. It was a tradition every time he was here. Eventually, no one could come up with anything new and original.
A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to go to Eugene. My uncle Larry and Zoe picked me up from the Eugene airport. I remember Zoe had school and rehearsal for CATS, and aunt Mag was working all day. So, we dropped Zoe off at school and he showed me around Eugene. It was really great actually because we got to spend the whole day together, just him and me. He brought me to Mount Pisgah, and we went hiking. We took a couple breaks, enjoyed the view while trucking up the trail, and we talked a lot. About life, love, and he told me how happy he was that I was there. When we got to the top, I asked someone to take a picture of us with beautiful Eugene in the background. That is how I will remember him.
On that same trip, I was reading different scripts a theatre company was sending me. I was trying to decide which one I wanted to direct. I didn’t think any of them were that good, to be honest, but I was getting pressured to make a decision. So I asked for his help and he was more than willing to read whatever I gave him. There was one script in particular; Let me put it this way; it was the least lousy of the dozens I had read. It was about these rebel nuns that would swear and smoke cigarettes. I brought it with me to Eugene so he could read it. That night when I went to bed, he stayed up to read it. The next morning, I was eager to find out what he thought. I walked in the kitchen the next morning and asked, “So Uncle Lar, what did you think?” and he said, with no hesitation, “I thought it STUNK!” I laughed and felt relieved that he said what I had been feeling. That was definitely the end of the nun play. “Don’t settle,” he said. “Wait until they send you something great that you deserve to work on.”
A few months ago when his health was ailing, I sent him a letter telling him how important and influential he was to me. I was afraid for his health and I needed him to know how much I cared about him. I wrote “Hey old man, I heard you weren’t feeling the greatest and I wanted to write you for 3 reasons. 1) No one writes letters anymore 2) It feels good to get something in the mail that isn’t a bill, and 3) I want you to know how important you are to me. You know, you are my favorite uncle (shh don’t tell the others) and you always encouraged me to explore my passions in life. I always hoped you’d move back to Chicago so we could see each other more than once a year.” I ended it “With love, your favorite niece (shh don’t worry, I wont tell the others). Be well and I’ll be seeing you.”
With all the pain and suffering in the world, I went through a time when I wasn’t sure what I believed anymore. Monday, December 30, was the day we received the news that he didn’t have much time left. My father, my aunt Donna, aunt Marilyn, and my grandmother and grandfather were able to skype with him one last time. He said to my grandmother, “I’ll meet up with you. I love you.” Today, with every fiber of my being, I believe he is up in heaven, and we will all meet up with him one day.
Many of you know 2013 was a very difficult year for this entire family. We lost Dorothy Borta, Anne Fritz, Dave Luttmer, and Bob Borta. And we all questioned, why? Why so many in one year? And I don’t know if everyone knows this but, the moment my Uncle Larry left us, he had a smile on his face. And I think that smile came upon his face because he saw Dorothy, Bob, Anne and Dave, all waiting for him. And he knew it was ok to let go.
I’d like to share with you quote from the children’s book “Peter and Wendy,” also known as “The boy who wouldn’t grow up.”
“You know that place between sleep and awake, the place where you can still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you. That’s where I’ll be waiting.”
I’ve been having a reoccurring dream with my uncle. Every time, the environment is different but the circumstances remain the same. Everyone around me is crying and he says “It’s my time, please don’t be sad anymore.”
Dear Uncle Larry, we may not be able to extinguish our sadness over your loss, but we are gathered here today to celebrate your life, a life that will never be forgotten.
With deepest admiration, your fan and niece, Lauren Da Mule.