Uncle Albutt Part 2

Through a connection with his son, Uncle Albert somehow came up on a ninety-nine year lease on several acres on Dorcheat Bayou in Louisiana.  Ready to retire from farming, he decided a fish camp would provide a modest retirement income.  My father bought his farm and stock, but that’s a story for another day.  Obviously, he was a multi-talented man, able to turn his hand to any task.  His farm boasted two cabins.  He moved into the second cabin, disassembled the log house he was living in loaded it piece by piece on his old truck, and moved  it to his lease, where he went to work reassembling it just as it had originally been, except he added an additional bedroom, occasionally recruiting help from relatives with bigger jobs.  Once the reassembled house was in the dry, he took apart the second cabin, using the timber to cover over the logs and seal the house tighter.  One day, Daddy decided we’d go by and check on Uncle Albert’s progress. My older sister climbed on the unsecured log walls, tumbling them to the ground.  I was so glad she got to them before I did.  Neither Daddy nor Uncle Albert was pleased.  Daddy spent the rest of that evening and Saturday helping Uncle Albert get it back together.  None of us kids were invited along, for some reason.  When Uncle Albert was satisfied with his house, he used the rest of the salvaged lumber for fishing boats, a pier, fences, a bait shop, and outbuildings.  Soon he had a pretty good business going.  By the next spring, he had a large garden underway.

Prior to construction of his house, Uncle Albert took care of necessities,; first, a toilet before summoning all his nephews for the digging of a well, uphill from the toilet, of course.  They came, bringing all their wives and children, a festive day of barbecuing, fishing, children running wild, while the men took turns shoveling the hard red clay from the well site..  Only one man could be in the hole at a time.  The others stayed above ground, pulling the heavy dirt from the hole.  They all took their turns.  By the end of the first day, thanks to the high water table, water was beginning to seep in at a depth of twenty feet.  They dug a few feet more, set the curb so the well wouldn’t silt in, and came back the next day to build a protective well-housing.  Uncle Albert was able to draw a bit of water by the evening of the second day.

Along with all my cousins, I was desperate to be lowered by pulley and bucket as the fortunate diggers were, into the depths of that well.  Sadly, all the mothers and aunts were just as anxious to keep wayward kids out of the well, warning us away every time we came near.  However, were able to indulge in one other life-threatening activity as they focused on that well.  A gravel road ran down the steep hill along one side of Uncle Albert’s property where it intersected with another dirt road fronting his house alongside the steep-banked bayou. The occasional oil-truck, fisherman, or hunter who travelled that way would have had no expectation of kids running wild, since until only recently, it was nothing but woods.    Someone of my cousins had thoughtfully brought along their red wagon to Uncle Albert’s that day.  Naturally, we pulled that wagon to the top of the red-dirt hill, piled in as many cousins as would fit, and prepared for a thrilling coast down the steep graveled road.  There were no engineers among us.  Confident as only a cluster of kids can be, we set off for a bone-rattling ride.  That wagon clattered and bounced, held down only by the weight of kids.  A couple of the smaller ones were pitched out, left squalling in our dusty tracks.  The clattering, crying, and dust cloud caught the attention of the well-diggers and mothers who were laying out the picnic lunch, secure in the knowledge we weren’t falling in the well.  As they looked on at the screaming wagonload of kids hurtling down the hill, an oil truck approached the crossing at the bottom.  It slammed on its brakes, swerving enough to allow us to pass, though our unlikely survival was concealed by the massive dust cloud.  The wagon flew on toward the high bank of the bayou, where we were saved by a brush thicket just short of the water.

In the manner of parents at that time, once the loving parents found their children weren’t dead, they gratefully expressed their joy with beatings for all. I had one fine ride down that hill, but I never got another crack at it.

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A Hog a Day

Photo from Library of Congress. Notice images of mother and child, fashionable young woman and Santa Claus, and other papers papers on wall.

“I had to kill a hog a day to feed them boys of mine.”  I was impressed.  Mr. Rose’s boys were grown and  gone, but I couldn’t get that image out of my mine as I looked around at the house the old man  shared with Miss Bessie.  Kids have the luxury of not having the responsibility of conversation, so I could enjoy the whole experience of listening, hospitality, and looking at everything as much as I liked, as long as I didn’t touch anything.  Believe me, I was not tempted to touch with both my parents vigilantly looking on.  The room was fascinating, but I did wish I could see those boys who could eat a hog a day.

No rug covered the white pine floor. Old newspapers and magazine pages were tacked  on the exterior walls of the room with no regard for their orientation served as wallpaper.  The loveliest was a beautiful young woman with blonde curls piled high on her head.  She wore a blue gingham dress with ruffled sleeves and carried an equally beautiful ham on a large platter.  That gorgeous ham was crisscrossed with slashes and garnished with pineapple slices, maraschino cherries, and cloves.  I practically salivated at its loveliness.  Its charm was enhanced by the fact that the image had been tacked upside down.  Somehow, seeing it upside down made it more memorable.  Though I have tried many times, I have never prepared a ham so lovely.

A large fireplace made of red iron ore rock centered one end of the sitting room.  The brick hearth extended out a few feet into the the  room.  Miss Bessie invited me and my brother to sit on the hearth and warm up.  I sat flat at a safe distance from the glowing embers.  Its waxy-looking orange and yellow coals looked alive.  I couldn’t look away from the story they seemed to be whispering to me.  Though the conversation was fascinating, both me and my brother eventually nodded stretched out on the heat-soaked hearth before the glowing fire in the way only a small child could.  I know now, Mother had to have had her eye on me to keep me safe from the fire.

Before dozing off, I heard Mr. Rose tell of the night the house almost caught fire.  He must have thought I was asleep or he’d never have told of being naked, a thrilling tidbit..  “It was way over in January, the coldest night of the year.  I banked the fire real good like I always do.  We was in bed soon as Bessie got the kitchen cleaned up, right after dark.  Seems like the cold went right through me.  I just couldn’t wait to git under them quilts.  I always slept naked, I don’t know why.  I just got the habit early and never changed it.  Anyway, I was dead asleep and Bessie woke me up.

‘Grady, git up!  I smell smoke.  The house is on fire!’

“I jumped out of that bed!  Sure enough, I smelled pine burning.  I seen where a spark had done dropped down where some mortar had fell down n the back of the firebox between a hole in the bricks.  I clumb  under the house and found where it had set the pine sleeper that run under the floor on fire.  They warn’t no flames yet, but it was getting ready to bust out.  I called Bessie to bring me a bucket of water.  She come flying up and instead of passing it to me, she doused me with that bucket of water.  I mean to tell you I put that fire out!”