Uncle Earle’s Half-Uncle

Earl.MayThe following story is a 2-part chapter from a collection of fictitious stories about my imaginary Uncle Earle and Aunt May.  I presented the first part on this blog around a year ago.  Last night, I took the 2nd part of this story to my writer’s club meeting – but I realized that the first part of the story is necessary to explain the second.  Therefore, I’m including both parts in this posting, in case you may have missed the first part.

 

UNCLE EARLE’S HALF UNCLE, Part One

Uncle Earle’s Grandpa Clovis settled in Tennessee.  Not Memphis or Nashville, but way out in the sticks – a place so remote, as they say, sunshine had to be piped in.  Grandpa Clovis married late in life, just after he’d started a little pig and tobacco farm.  Back in those days you didn’t hire farm hands, you had ‘em!  So Grandpa Clovis married Adeline Wilson… and started up a family of farm-hands.  While Adeline was expecting their first child (it turned out to be a girl), he built a simple, but comfortable, ‘dog trot’ house for his growing family.

A dog trot was like two houses joined together.  They shared one big floor, and one roof covered both.  The two ‘house’ areas were separated by an open hallway that ran front to back.  Because there were no doors on the ends of this ‘hallway,’ yard dogs simply trotted through, hence the name.  Bedrooms were on one side and the kitchen and sitting areas on the other.  Of course the privy was out back, as this was way before inside plumbing.  Grandpa Clovis expected to have a large family, so he built a three holer.  The first 3 children were girls, who unfortunately, don’t usually make the best field hands.

About that time, Grandma Adeline’s younger sister Elvira married a fine hunk of a man from the next county.  Rudolph, Rudolph Benson was his name, and he worked at the saw mill just over the ridge from the dog trot.  The old saw mill had seen better days.  It had been powered by a rickety, wood burning steam engine.  The mill owner complained about burning up all the profits fueling the steam engine – so his remedy was replacing the wood burner with an old T- Model Ford.  The old Ford had been wrecked, so he replaced the radiator, took off the wheels, put it up on blocks, and began powering the mill with that old Ford.

Like I said, the old sawmill was in sad shape.  The apparatus that fed logs into that big spinning saw blade needed manual assistance.  And like I said, Elvira’s new husband Rudolph was a hunk of a man.  By default, he became the log pusher, manhandling a rough-cut 4 x 4 ram.  If you’ve ever used a table saw, it’s the same principle.  When you’re not careful, the spinning blade can kick the wood back at you.  This is exactly what happened to Rudolph.

The day started out badly.  It was cold, damp and foggy.  It took quite a while to get the old Ford started.  Rudolph got a bad splinter picking up his 4 x 4 ram.  (He’d left his work gloves at home.)  As he was feeding the first log of the day into the saw… it kicked back violently.  The log struck Rudolph squarely in the chest.  The blow crushed his chest like an egg, killing him instantly.  The log hurled him backward, slamming him into the T- Model, rupturing the gas tank.  The gasoline splashed all over Rudolph and everything else for six feet in all directions.  Because of the nip in the air… they had a fire going in a 55 gallon drum nearby.  With a sudden WHRRRRRRUMPHHH… everything exploded in a fireball.  It consumed Rudolph, the old T-Model, the mill itself, everything.

Everyone escaped, except Rudolph.  After the fire cooled, all that remained of Elvira’s poor husband was a few brittle bits of bone, charred to a snowy white.  Perhaps this was a blessing.  Elvira was so attached to Rudolph that she’d have found it exceedingly difficult to let him go.  Now there was precious little left to hold on to.

After the funeral, Clovis and Adeline invited the grieving Elvira to move in with them for a while.  Grandpa Clovis converted one of the rooms on the kitchen side of the house into an apartment for her.  ‘For a while’ stretched into years, and years, and more years.  The three of them lived in that old house for the remainder of their days.  But it wasn’t long before the grieving widow and hospitable sister were sharing more than just the kitchen and privy.  It wasn’t long before the yard dogs weren’t the only ones trotting back and forth through the hallway.  Over the years Grandpa Clovis and his wife Adeline raised six kids in that old house, and Grandpa Clovis and Elvira, (his wife’s sister), raised five.

“Clovis was no better ‘n a dog his-self,” raved Aunt May when she first heard the story. “DOG TROT was a fittin’ name, that’s fer sure!”

Uncle Earle’s father was Clovis’ six child by his legal wife Adeline.  And Uncle Earl’s favorite uncle, Edward, was the third child of Clovis and Elvira.  So because those two boys were HALF brothers, Uncle Earle just naturally considered Edward to be his HALF-uncle.  It makes sense to me!

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UNCLE EARLE’S HALF-UNCLE, Part Two

Uncle Earle received a letter from relatives in Tennessee, saying they’d just buried his favorite Uncle, his Half-Uncle Edward.  And… the letter also said that, at the same time, they’d also buried Edward’s wife, Connie.

Now Edward’s burial came as no surprise.  The old gent was way past ninety.  What came as a surprise was the burial of Aunt Connie.  Uncle Earle KNEW she’d been dead for fifteen years or more!  The letter contained a long newspaper clipping, which explained some of these strange circumstances.  Uncle Earl knew about Edward and Connie’s early years.  It took some digging to turn up the story of their latter years.

It seems that after the eleven ‘dog trot kids’ were grown, they moved away, all that is but Edward.  He stayed on and looked after the old threesome until they died.  2 years after the last one passed away, the old place burned.  By then Edward was thirty-seven, and ready to look for a wife himself.

Down the road lived the family of a staunch Baptist minister who presided over no less than three small congregations in the area.  His eldest daughter, Connie, was the conscripted organist/pianist for all three churches.  I suppose that 4 Sunday Services each week (one of the churches met Sunday Mornings and Sunday Nights) and 3 mid-week services a week were a bit much for Connie.  It didn’t take a crowbar to pry her away from her family.  After the wedding she and Edward promptly moved to the other side of the mountain, too far away to be the three-church organist/pianist anymore.

What Connie may have lacked in physical beauty she more than made up for in inner beauty.  As if in reward for caring for his elderly parents, Edward was blessed with the grandest wife a man could hope to find.  Although they never had children of their own, their home was a haven of love and joy to every child in the area, and for friends and neighbors alike.  And then tragedy struck.

Connie was stricken with a rare and incurable liver disease.  Edward was positively devastated.  I suppose Edward had heard his mother, Elvira, talk about the loss of his father, and all the pain caused.  As he approached the loss of his beloved Connie, Edward could not imagine that eventual reality.

Now Edward often hunted and fished with a strange recluse who lived in the next ‘hollow.’  Folks in the area called the ole fool Wild Bill.  He was a wild unpredictable half-wit… the often result of backwoods inbreeding.  But Wild Bill was an expert fisherman, and a crack shot.  His humble dwelling was filled with game trophies… a large mouth bass, seemingly as large as a tuna, adorned one wall.  There were snarling bobcats, dainty foxes, rabbits, squirrels, deer heads, and even a large black bear standing erect and threatening.  On a table near his front door was his pride and joy, a large bullfrog holding a lamp, the first animal he’d ever done.  Wild Bill was an amateur, yet quite proficient, taxidermist.

“Earle, one a these days I wanna to do me a person,” Wild Bill had once confided to Edward.

Connie lived only 3 months after her diagnosis.  By then, Edward had made his decision.  Like good economy, supply was ready to satisfy demand.

When you live as far back in the sticks as these people, the niceties of civilized law and custom aren’t always followed.  Few had birth certificates.  Death certificates were practically unheard of.  So Edward convinced everyone that Connie didn’t want a viewing… that she wanted everyone to remember her as she was in life.  She died at home, in Edward’s arms.

Edward built a pinewood coffin, beautifully varnished and waxed… and with brass fittings.  It was fitting tribute to his beloved Connie.  Into this farewell box he carefully laid several bags of sand… and nailed it shut.  The afternoon of her death, he and Wild Bill ‘did’ Connie.

Of course, a human doesn’t have the same hide or hair as a bass or rabbit.  So when finished, Connie left a bit to be desired.  Edward had to apply a LOT of make-up, causing her to look not at all unlike Tammie Faye.  But at least he still had his beloved Connie.

After dressing her in her finest Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes, he laid the body on an old frame bed hidden away in the attic.  Then he contacted her family.

After a tender and sweet farewell service at the Baptist Church, they took that beautiful pinewood box (of sandbags) and buried it beneath a stately oak in the REST IN TRUTH CEMETERY.  Rest in peace.  Ashes to ashes.  In this case would that be sand to sand?

Of course Wild Bill had been sworn to secrecy. He proved to be a man of his word. It was only in the past few days, when Edward too had passed way, and his few remaining relatives began searching his old house for family remembrances… that someone happened into the attic and discovered the true resting place of Aunt Connie.

For a man to have had such a checkered ancestry, dog trots, half-uncles, and a taxidermied aunt… I suppose we can cut Uncle Earle a little slack.  I know I can.

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BARE BUNS

Hamburger© 2017 Bill Murphy

When I began this blog, I vowed that I would not stoop to ranting and raving – ever! Therefore, consider the following as only an OBSERVATION – over the course of some 70+ years.

As for ‘bare buns,’ I’m not speaking of those you see everywhere on 36 inch waist individuals who insist on wearing 48 inch pants – with no belt.  I hope this fad soon goes the way of the duck tail haircut.  I’m talking about HAMBURGER BUNS.

Hamburgers have an upper and lower bun.  Back in ‘my day’ BOTH of these buns were smeared with condiments.  Yes, they really were – and at EVERY place that made burgers!

But not today.  Today, the bottom half of the bun is as naked as folks in a nudists colony.

Although I don’t agree with this short cut, I can understand the reasoning behind it.  If you’re in the business of selling burgers, sales volume means sales profits.

Lets say that you can make 100 burgers in and hour and can sell those 100 burgers in an hour.  It would not be wise to MAKE only 80 burgers per hour.  (You’d lose 20% of your profits!)  It takes time to paint that bottom bun with condiments – time that merchants today think of as wasted time.  (Who looks at the BOTTOM bun besides Bill Murphy anyway?)

So the bottom is left as naked as a newborn.

And then there is the COST of those ‘wasted’ bottom bun condiments.  The merchant POCKETS the cost of these un-used/unneeded condiments.  (Profits go up!)  The boss can now go to Hawaii this Summer!

Also, by their very nature, when you cook hamburger meat, it becomes GREASY.  Placed on top of a spread of mayo/mustard/ketchup mix, the grease has no where to go but over the side!  Drip, drip, drip. T he nude bottom bun gives the hamburger a built in grease trap.  Tasty!  Otherwise, time would be WASTED by de-greasing each patty.  And as we have seen, wasted time is wasted profits!

There you have it.  It’s all a capitalist ploy to make money, at the expense of old geezers like me who remember the good old days of a COMPLETE hamburger.

That’s not a rant.  It’s “Just the facts, ma’am” – like Sgt. Friday said.

Some ‘old fashioned’ things are good fashioned things!

 

 

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BC, AD, and PCP

telephone© 2018 Bill Murphy

In school, we learned that history was divided by the birth of Christ… BC before, AD after.  Allow me to add another time-division… PCP – Pre Cell Phone.

You’ll have to be less than 50 in age to appreciate the amazing changes that we old geezers have seen and experienced.

I remember when our home phone number was 32246. No prefix. No area code. Think about that for a moment. In my home town of Jackson, MS –  that meant the number of telephones was limited to 99,999 telephones… which included private homes, schools, businesses, hospitals, public services… everyone!

We had only one telephone in our home… no extensions.  It was a ‘land-line,’ and all connections were made ‘physically’ over wires.  My aunt and uncle who lived across the street had a pedestal phone.  I always wanted one of those. I think they were classic, as far as telephones go.

Our telephone was located in the hallway, near the center of our home.  It sat on a small shelf, in a ‘nook’ recessed into the wall, with a flat shelf underneath which held the phone book.  There were numbers, 0 thru 9, arranged around a dial.  Each call required 5 ‘dials.‘  WHERE you talked was limited by the length of the telephone cord.

There was no such thing as recorded messages. ‘Speed dialing‘ was determined by the dexterity of your fingers.

Then came prefixes, which allowed the number of telephones within an area to increase. Our prefix was FLEETWOOD.  It was dialed as ‘FL.’  New telephones were required for this, for the addition of these alphabetical letters.

To make a long distance call, you had to call the phone company and be connected to the circuits which led out of town and to distances beyond.  There were extra charges for long distance… and it was not cheap.  You were charged by the minutes you talked.

With the advent of area codes, you no longer had to call the ‘long distance operator’ to make a long distance call.  But… the long distance calls still costs extra.

The first person I knew who had a ‘cell’ phone was my mother-in-law.  But it was not called a cell-phone.  It was called a ‘mobile phone.’  It would not fit in your pocket!  The thing came in a box about the size of two shoe boxes joined side by side.  It had a receiver to talk into and listen with, just like the telephones at home.  She had hers sitting on the ‘hump’ on the floor of her car, between the front seats.  It was next to impossible to use with the car in motion.

When wireless transmission really took off, there were not that many ‘mobile phones’ around. But there was plenty of PAGERS.  Both my wife and her sister worked for pager companies.  A pager was a small hand-held wireless device, that when your pager was called, it buzzed, and displayed the phone number you were to call.  It could also display a brief message.  But… you had to call the pager company and tell them what pager to page, and give them the number/message you wanted displayed on that pager.  Because my wife worked for the pager company, she put the pager software on our home computer… and I could page her directly!  “We’re out of milk,” I could tell her while she was on the way home.  What a time saver!

The first time this modern technology really rocked my world was in the mid 80s. Carol and I were on vacation in Maine.  We were walking down the main street of Machias, ME.  Carol noticed something in the window of shop and commented that her sister would like that.  There on the street, Carol paged Mary Ellen, describing the item.  Mary Ellen paged Carol back, and said, ‘yes,’ she wanted it.  Carol made the purchase.  From Maine to Mississippi, the deal was settled almost instantly.  That was truly amazing at the time!

And practically overnight it seemed, we had cell phones.  Gone were the days of being anchored to a wire when you made a call.  Now you could talk anywhere… outside, up a tree, under the house.  And just as suddenly, that expensive bane in the budget – LONG DISTANCE – was a thing of the past.

Today the world is at our fingertips.  ‘Back then,’ if your family didn’t have a set of encyclopedias, it required a trip to the library to learn the capital of Ireland.

But… all this miraculous ‘convenience’ has come at a terrible price.  We’ve loosing the gift of gab.  Our kids are not learning to communicate, not face to face.  Today people can hide behind a tiny screen and lash out and rip apart the lives of others.

Today we’re still chained to copper wires.  Today’s chains are the chargers – which people continue to lose – or to borrow… because they lack the responsibility to bring their own along.

When I was growing up, there was a box to be checked (hopefully) on our school report cards.  That box was: PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS.  Our kids today, sadly, are in training to lose this ability.

Oh, what were you saying?  I was reading a text.

BACK IN MOLASSISSIPPI

DixieSorghum

© 2018 by Bill Murphy

Once a Mississippian, always a Mississippian I say.  I was born and raised in the fair Magnolia State, and until age 70, lived here.  I currently live in SOUTHERN Illinois, a far cry from the graft and guns of Chicago.  In the previous sentence, I used the word ‘here’ because I am HERE as I write these words, visiting friends and relatives.

I’ve just returned for a store which shall remain unnamed. The name doesn’t matter.  It’s just a deep-south-Mississippi type place.  OK.  It was Dollar General.

The store was crowded.  There was only one cashier on hand to accept my one dollar for my one item.  But I was the 9th one in line.  Patience is a virtue scripture tells me.  Mine keep trying to slip from my grasp.

There was one other ‘employee’ in sight, obviously one in management.  He kept ambling to and fro, in places that only employees should go, inspecting and moving around items that customers would not be allowed to handle.  I say he was ‘ambling,’ because his movement could in no way be labeled as walking.  It was more a slow shuffle, an amble… what one does when they have all the time in the world – and are using it.

Mr. Molasses was obviously being paid by the hour, and Dollar General and the 9 of us in the check-out line were NOT getting our dollars worth.

Yes.  I was back home… in Mississippi.  I didn’t need the cotton fields, cornbread, boiled peanuts, and Ole Miss bumper stickers to reming me.  And I sure didn’t need a map to tell me that I was back home in MOLASSISSIPPI.

 

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THE PASS OUT KID

Passed Out© 2018 Bill Murphy

If you can’t remember my name, just call me ‘The Pass Out Kid.’ I’ll answer to that.

The first time I passed out, it was not technically a ‘pass-out.‘ It was a knock out. I was about 5 at the time, and was downtown with Mamaw Fairchild.  We were waiting for the light to change to cross the street… at the southeast corner by the Post Office.  Impatient, I pulled away from her, and stepped into the path of a turning car.  Boink!  I was knocked cold.  My poor grandmother faired worse, she almost had a heart attack.

Fast forward 14 years.  I was getting married, and the state of MS required a blood test.  I was home for the weekend, from MS State, and for what ever reason, my blood test was being administered by our family doctor.  His office was closed on weekends, but he met me there that hot afternoon.  The A/C was off, so it must have been the heat that tripped my switch.  No sooner than the needle went in – that I went out – and onto the floor.

About 10 years ago, the ‘Fearless Foursome‘ as we called ourselves, were on vacation.  It was another long motor trip – my mother-in-law and sister-in-law,  the wife and yours truly. We were in Wyoming.  We just happened to be in the most sparsely populated county in the most sparsely populated state in the nation.  While climbing over (and down into) a very rough and rocky area that folks our age should never attempt,  Carol slipped and banged her leg.  We iced it down, and filled her with aspirin, but to no avail.

A few miles down the road we found a very nice but TINY little county hospital.  Her leg was X-rayed.  I think I remember them saying, “Broken in two places,” before I hit the floor.  I calling that one a ‘sympathetic’ pass out.

(So far) the last pass-out came about 2 years ago.  We were in Minneapolis visiting our eldest daughter and her husband.  It was the end of summer, yet still rather hot. They’d gotten tickets for us to see the Vikings play a pre-season NFL game.

It was crowded… very crowded.  In the stands, it was hot in the sun… very hot.  It seemed that the gigantic speakers were right beside me… and they were very loud… very, very, very loud.

All they played was rap.

I began to wish that I was somewhere else.  I wasn’t choosey – most any other place would do.  When I regained consciousness, I  HAD been somewhere else!  I’d been to la-la land.

While I was still in the sweet land where rappers don’t rap, the EMTs had been called. Despite my objections that I’d just ‘stepped out‘ for a moment, they nevertheless packed me up and transported me to the hospital.  They suspected that I’d had a heart attack.  No, it was those frazzling SPEAKERS that were attacking ME!  A few hours later, I was discharged with the diagnosis of SENSORY OVERLOAD.

They don’t let me go to football games any more.

 

 

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LEAKING COFFEE

Mug© 2018 Bill Murphy

At my age, there are times when I have difficult getting all my ducks in a row.  Today was one of those days.

I was preparing to leave for a work-meeting of my writer’s group.  We were to assemble a display of group projects. While keeping one eye on the clock so as not to be late, I was busy gathering the supplies I’d need: two large aluminum display easels, notebook, pen and pencil, razor knife… and a grande-size coffee in a plastic travel mug – without a lid.  I’ve lost the lid.

As I walked out the door, I decided I might need a light jacket.  “You left the jacket in the car,” my wife remarked.

Reaching the car, I sat the coffee on the hood, put everything inside, and located the jacket – carelessly tossed on the back seat.  Then I jumped inside, and was on my way.

But… one of my ducks had gotten out of his row.

I backed into the street, then headed the 100 yards or so to the intersection, and turn left. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a red flash… or something.  Coffee mug!

I’d left the travel mug on the hood, and somehow, it remained there until I made that hard left at the end of our street.  I jumped out to behold a truly amazing sight!  The now empty travel mug lay in the street almost exactly where I began my turn.

From where it lay, a long light brown wet 90 degree arc was painted on the street.  It was a ‘perfect’ arc, smooth and uniform.  It could not have been rendered better by a street artist using a compass.

I still drink my coffee the way my grandmother taught me 75 years ago – cream and sugar – heavy on both.  Knowing that surely there was coffee on the car (which is white) and knowing this would dry to a sticky mess, and knowing that we had bottled water in the car, I had the means to wash down the offending portions of the vehicle.

About this time an elderly couple (obviously older than me) pulled along side.  “Are you leaking water?” he asking.

“No, coffee,” I replied.

 

 

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GRANDPA PAT AND THE HEIFER

102 & Pat Fairchild copy

© 2018  Bill Murphy

The man on the left in the photo above is my maternal grandfather, Patrick Henry Fairchild.  He was an engineer for the Canton and Carthage Rail Road.  This treasured photo was taken in the early 1930s.

Grandpa Pat had two sons, both railroad men… and two daughters.  One daughter married a railroad man, the other married my father, a grocer.  So my hands-on railroading experience is limited to model trains, although I do like to think that I have at least some ‘coal dust’ in my blood.

Railroad men have stories.  My favorite of Grandpa Pat’s involved a heifer.

In the 1930s, the Canton and Carthage was primarily a logging RR.  The ‘big’ sawmill/lumber yard in the area was located in Canton.  The Fairchild’s lived in McAfee, a thriving RR community just west of Carthage.  Grandpa Fairchild made the Canton run numerous times.

There was a slight ‘hill’ along the Carthage/Canton route, a grade that required a second locomotive when pulling an especially long and heavy load to the mill.  But Grandpa Pat mastered the art traversing this grade using only ONE engine.  Speed was the key.  Simple inertia did the work.

On the day in question, Grandpa Pat was pulling a long and heavy load.  He’d gotten up the speed he needed, when… looking ahead, he saw a cow standing on the tracks!  Grandpa Pat never slowed.  That’s what that angular device on the front of a locomotive is for.  And that’s why it’s called a ‘cow-catcher.’  Scratch one heifer.

The next day, a very angry farmer showed up at the RR Superintendent’s office, demanding payment for his lost animal.

The company paid the farmer.  And Grandpa Pat was called before the superintendent.

“Pat,” he said angrily, “I hear that you killed a heifer on the tracks yesterday, and that you made no attempt to stop and clear the tracks.  You know full well that we don’t like to rile the local folks around here.  We had to pay that farmer $35 for the cow you killed!  I hope you have a good answer for what you did!”

“I do,” replied my Grandpa.  “That run yesterday, with that load I carried, usually requires two locomotives.  I made it with only one.  May I ask, sir… how much would that second locomotive have cost you?”

(Now remember, this was in the 1930s)

“Well,” the superintendent said, “around $45 I suppose.”

“Do you want to give me that $10 I saved you – now,” replied Grandpa Pat, “or just put it on my paycheck at the end of the week?”  Case closed!

The engine (#102) in the photo could be the engine in this story, and one of the two well dressed gentlemen could be the superintendent.

 

 

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