The 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!
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.