I think it’s more than sinus. I’m now getting a rattlin’ in my chest and have been up to par for much of the week. Today, my head was exploding, so I came home at lunch and took a nap and then worked on this piece. It’s my uncle’s story—some of which was in a piece I wrote a couple of years ago. There’s a new photo of him that I found last year when I was at my grandma’s, one of him in the navy during World War II. The other photo, with him holding the mule as they took a break at an end of a row of tobacco, I shared with back in 2007. I got down and saw Rick Bragg on Tuesday and enjoyed his presentation. Soon, I’ll write a review of It’s All Over but the Shouting.
I drove to hospital in Pinehurst the first day I had off. It was the thing to do, especially since my dad was living on the other side of the world and my grandmother, a widow for just a few years, had her hands full. There, in a sterile room, was my Uncle D. He really wasn’t my uncle; he was great-uncle, my grandma’s brother, a man who seemed to have as many lives as a cat. He was still living in the old place, his parents home and had come home from work with the intent on doing some grilling. I’m sure his judgment was somewhat impaired by alcohol. The coals just weren’t turning white fast enough for Uncle D and he was ready for that meat to start sizzling, so he tossed some gasoline on the grill. He was in a mighty bit of pain when I was saw him, but he’d live another day. In fact, he’d live another twenty-five years. That gasoline saved his life, for afterwards, till he finally went into a nursing home, my grandma would keep a close watch over her younger brother, keeping him mostly sober.
My first memory of Uncle D came from when I was just a little boy. I was probably four years old and my parents had brought an old home and were fixing it up so that we could move in there. Every evening, we’d be over there working, or at least Dad would be working. D, who was still living with his parents, my great-grandparents, just up the road, would come down and help out the best he could. He was wearing a neck brace then, which made him kind of look like one of them women from Burma with long necks and heads pulled high by metal bands. Of course, D’s brace wasn’t a fashion statement; it was the result of having totaled his car over on 15-501, near the Little River Bridge. He almost didn’t make it then. Despite a broken neck, Dunk would do what he could to help out. When not able to help, he’d play with us kids. By keeping our little fingers away from the skill saw was probably a big help.
After we left Moore County, we’d only see D occasionally. On time, he’d told my Grandma that he wanted to see us. She went and found him drunker than I’d seen a man before. She brought him home with her and ran him through the shower, then sat in one of her hard maple chairs at her dining room table and poured coffee down him. He cried, saying he was ashamed of his condition. By making him sit there, I wasn’t sure if she was trying to punish him or to use him as a lesson for us kids. I was probably ten or eleven years old and just didn’t know what to make of it all. I still don’t.
A few years later, after D’s daddy had died and the old place was getting pretty worn down, my Dad took my brother and me over to see if he was home. Knocking on the back door, he yelled for us to come in. Dad opened the door, but wouldn’t let my brother and me go in. I could see there were four men in the sittin’ room, all nearly passed out. Seeing us, D struggled out to the back porch, where he held tightly to the screen door in order to stand upright. I think he was both ashamed as well as glad to see us. One of the other men yelled out some lurid comment. D told him to shut-up, but by then my Daddy was herding my brother and me toward the car. I was probably thirteen or fourteen then and even today I ain’t sure what to make of it all.
As the years drifted on, we’d occasionally see D at church, smoking cigarettes and talking to the men out front after the preaching was over, that is if we happened to be in town when he was on the wagon. If he’d fallen off, he’d be missing for the assembled crowd. However, regardless of his condition, he’d always remember us kids at Christmas and send us something. At first, it was mostly candy, often a box chocolate covered cherries that would leave a little sticky glue on the corners of my mouth. When I got to high school, he went through a phase of giving me bottles of Old Spice. Then, thankfully, he started giving me packages of handkerchiefs. This kept up till I was in my early forties and I’m sure even today half the handkerchiefs in my dresser drawers were gifts from him.
As he got older, his wounds begin to bother him. His back and neck, both of which had been broken at various times from automobile accidents, always hurt. He shuffled around; at least he wasn’t able to get into too much trouble. He started to go to a men’s Bible Study and attended church more regularly. I reckon it was in his blood as his Daddy and Granddaddy and Great-granddaddy had all served as an Elder at Culdee Presbyterian. He never served as an Elder, but for his last quarter century of his life, he attended faithfully.
D. took great delight in my adopted son. When we’d visit in the summer, he’d take him out fishing on his pond, the same pond I’d first fished in when I was just a tot. I liked that they got to share that together. Both of them had been through a lot and they seemed to develop a close bond. As the boy got older, whenever we talked, he’d always ask about D. Uncle D also adored my daughter. When he learned she was taking violin lessons, he presented her with a violin that had belonged to his granddaddy, the man for whom he was named. His granddaddy had traded a barrel of kraut for the violin, back in the 1860s. It needs some work, but it has a sweet sound. When my daughter gets a little older and big enough to play it, I hope she’ll occasionally think of Uncle D. He was tormented by demons all his life, yet deep down there was goodness.