Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Young Uncle and Other Cousins

Uncle John was Daddy’s youngest brother, born 21 years after my Daddy. I was born 20 years after Uncle John and Uncle John’s first child was born 2 days before my sister, Felita. [Okay, now that you’re completely confused and I have it set in my mind...]

My first memory of Uncle John was when he arrived at the farm after a military tour in Germany. His eyes sparkled [he often bragged about having 20/10 vision], there was a pleasant look about his face, he smiled and laughed a lot. I remember thinking he looked really young to be my Daddy’s brother and--Uncle John in uniform--well, I thought he was really something special. This was also my first memory of someone in military uniform.

The first wife and that child that was born two days before Felita were no longer in the picture. Uncle John brought a new aunt and a bushel basket of new playmates to the farm. There were five in the bushel--two boys, the eldest and the youngest, and three girls; they were from Texas. All the girls had long straight hair and the youngest one--well, she did this peculiar thing, she would twist a stand of hair around the base of her thumb, stick that thumb in her mouth and suck on it. I never understood. I asked her about it once, but couldn’t understand what she was saying--with that thumb stuck in her mouth. The youngest son was named Billy--always made me think of that old folk song “Oh, where have you been Billy Boy, Billy Boy...”. I’m sure we even sang it to him at times.

Johnnie, the eldest of the bushel was considered “big enough” to handle the tractors. Uncle Frank and crew would come in from NC and Johnnie and Dink always got to go out on the tractors with the Uncles. I wasn’t allowed. However, I had a secret.

One day I was standing in the cow pasture with my doll, Tickle, pressed up against the fence watching cousin Tommy on a tractor in the cotton field. [Cousin Tommy was eight years older than Uncle John, so he seemed more like an Uncle.] Tommy waved, made a couple passes and then stopped that tractor, came over, lifted me and Tickle across the fence and took us for a ride up and down the rows of cotton. It was our secret. I wasn’t to tell. I didn’t tell secrets like that until I was grown. Then I ‘fessed up to lots of stuff to my parents and my siblings. That was kind of fun, too.

Cousin Tommy was a bit of a wayward soul. He would be around for awhile and then gone again until next time. During my fifth grade year I wanted to sing the opening song for a festival we were having at school. Mother didn’t know the entire song and I needed to learn it. Cousin Tommy happened to be there at that time. The next day when I came home from school he presented me with the sheet music for the song I needed to learn. That made me feel extremely special. I kept tabs on Tommy through the years, and went to visit a few times when he finally settled down in Memphis. One of my sons even had the fortune of spending time with him while in Memphis for a high school basketball camp. I miss Tommy.

Uncle John, Aunt Jo and the whole bushel basket stayed in Mamaw and Papaw’s house while a house for them was being built on the other side of Papaw’s barn in the far east pasture. Very soon thereafter Danny arrived--another son added to the bushel. Uncle John and his Texas family only lived there for about five years before things changed again. Somehow, somewhere along his sojourn Uncle John met my future Aunt Ann. Aunt Jo and the bushel basket went on a trip to Texas and never came back. Tippy Smith, who years earlier had bought the Log Cabin Grocery story from Papaw, also bought that little house.

Soon Uncle John brought Ann to our house for a visit. They held hands all the time and Ann held onto Uncle John’s arm as we walked around the farm. Uncle John took out his pocket knife and carved a heart in the bark of the aged beech-nut tree. [That was a great tree for carving.] Inside the heart he carved..John + Ann. And so it was, though not carved in stone, they soon married, had a son and moved away the following year after Mamaw died. My Uncle John died about eight years later at the young age of 41. I miss him, too.

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