Uncle Albutt Part 8

Over the years, Aunt Jewel made frequent mention of Eunice and Doxy. On Sunday, April 14th, Uncle Albert and Aunt Jewel surprised us by showing up for Sunday dinner with Eunice, Doxy, and Baby Dewie in tow. Before the days of telephones, it wasn’t unusual for relatives to arrive unannounced. It was a bit of a surprise to have them bring Eunice and Doxy, people we were only vaguely acquainted with. Like the gracious host and niece-in-law she was, Mother put a couple more potatoes in the pot, opened another can of beans, watered down the gravy, and slid another pan of biscuits in the oven. Even though Mother was creative cutting up the chicken, it didn’t go too far. The big pieces didn’t make it past the company, while the kids dined on the neck, back, ribs, and wings. This was in the days before we knew chicken wings were a delicacy, so we weren’t that happy. We had been forewarned not to complain. In all fairness, Mother did reserve the coveted fried scrambles and put them on our plates to spare us the pain of seeing Uncle Albert gobble them all up.
Mother’s dishpan was at the ready as she cleaned up while she cooked. Aunt Jewel chain-smoked at the kitchen table and watched as Mother cooked. Eunice nursed her snotty-nosed baby. After a wet sneeze, the baby blew out an impressive snot bubble. Eunice grabbed Mother’s dishrag from the dishpan and wiped the baby’s nose, then matter-of-factly, tossed it back into the dishpan. This, on top of the smoking and breast-feeding was too much for Mother. She got Eunice a hanky and suggested the women move to the living room where it was more comfortable. The decibel of banging pots and pans increased as she put Phyllis and me to washing dishes and setting the table.
Fortunately for Mother, while she was struggling to stretch the noon meal, she had no idea Daddy had recently boasted that she’d just completed their return, bagging them a nice refund. Uncle Albert was impressed. Eunice and Doxy needed a nice refund. Uncle Albert assured Eunice and Doxy Mother would be glad to prepare their tax return, hence the reason for the impromptu visit, information he shared as he ground out his cigarette in his dinner plate. Though Mother made no overt objection, I didn’t miss her sigh and pursed lips. Daddy did have the grace to look a little worried. After clearing the table and putting us to doing the mountain of dishes. Aware of her mood, we knew better than to fight over our task. Mother told Eunice, they’d better get started. Naturally, Eunice wanted Mother to do the long form and calculate interest on their many debts. This was long before calculators.
As Mother labored over the form and calculations, Aunt Jewel perfumed the air with her cigarettes at the other end of the table, turning the air blue. The skinny baby squalled and snorted as Mother picked information from Eunice. Even though Eunice had never done a tax return, she argued with Mother over how it should be done, arguing that rent, groceries, and gasoline were exemptions. She felt little concern over receipts. “I got that at home somewhere. That doctor bill was about twenty-five dollars. I don’t need no receipt.” Just as Mother thought she had finished, Moxy strolled through and wanted to claim an exemption for the baby, even though it was born months after the cut-off date. He wouldn’t be convinced, so Mother hastily added the baby, knowing it wouldn’t fly. She did however, refuse to sign the form as preparer, having a healthy fear of being jailed by the IRS.
The little family eventually left, exhausted by the taxation process. I never heard if they ended up in jail. Fortunately, Uncle Albert never brought Mother any more tax preparation business. Daddy never got his hanky back.

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Uncle Albutt Part 4

Uncle Albert had an interesting vocabulary.   Even when he didn’t get words right, he forged bravely ahead.  When his energy was low, he didn’t have much image.  When the doctor diagnosed him with emphysema, he referred to his ‘zema. Air conditioners were air positioners. He called my sister Phyllis, Phillips.  I liked that one.  I was Linder.  I didn’t like that quite so much. My mother Kathleen was Kathaleen.  He called Daddy “Willie”, his real name instead of Bill, the name Daddy gave himself once he left home.  Daddy cringed every time he was called Willie.  The only other person who got away with it was his mother.  I wouldn’t have wanted to be Willie, either.  For some reason, Daddy’s brother Parnell named his daughter Willie Carol.  She was a whiny, sullen kid, maybe because of that name.  It makes perfect sense to me.

On occasion, we saw some of Aunt Jewel’s relatives.  Her sister, Lucille, who incidentally had married one of Daddy’s cousins, had the hairiest legs I’ve ever seen, man or woman. The wearing of seamed stockings only made it more obvious.  A good proportion of the wiry hairs worked their way through the stockings, trying to escape, while the rest were imprisoned flat against her legs.  I don’t know which fascinated me more, the swirling mass of flattened ones, or the wild escapees.  I never got to look enough, and certainly wasn’t allowed to comment. Mother warned us off when she knew we’d see Lucille.  Daddy swore her legs had gotten hairier because she shaved them!  That just sounded nuts.  How would hair roots know a razor threatened?  He was death on leg-shaving, ascribing to the old wive’s tale that shaving made hair grow back thicker.  I don’t know what planet he was from that made his daughter’s legs, shaved or unshaven, his business, but Daddy thought he was God and his wishes,  commandments.  More likely, he may have feared he’d be stuck with his girls forever should we sprout hair like that.  Of course, Mother never volunteered the information that she shaved her legs.  I guess she didn’t want Daddy to know what was in his future.  Naturally, I shaved my legs as soon as I could get hold of a razor.  I can’t tell you how happy I was to get away from home.

Daddy’s methods did ensure he never had to deal with adult children boomeranging

home.  Times just didn’t get that hard.

Uncle Albutt Part 3

Uncle Albert was the only person I ever knew who never attended school at all.  He couldn’t write or read a word.  I remember seeing him bring documents for Mothr to read and interpret and pen his replies.  He was the first person I ever saw make an X mark for his signature. Mother wrote his name afterward and witnessed it. I was filled with awe that a person had never attended school.  Mother filled out his income tax returns for him every year.

Uncle Albert was very shrewd in his accounts, despite his lack of education.  He handled his business affairs skillfully, requiring no assistance.  He was a skilled trader.  I remember hearing him tell Daddy how he left the house one morning with a goat to barter and after several trades, came home with a shotgun and box of shells.  I never knew him to hold public employment.    He farmed forty acres more than fifty years, providing a living for him and his wife.  He paid cash, bartered, or did without.  The whole time I knew him, he drove a nineteen forty-eight Ford pickup truck.  He and Aunt Jewel smoked Prince Albert Tobacco and rolled their own cigarettes when money was tight, and bought Raleigh cigarettes when they were flush.  Aunt Jewel saved Raleigh Cigarette coupons for prizes.  From time to time, she’d show off a fancy vase or pair of pillowcases. . I never knew of them being without cigarettes of some sort.

Daddy was always honored when Uncle Albert and Aunt Jewel came to visit.  One evening, Mother cooked our favorite, fried chicken.  We never got enough of her fried chicken, particularly the crisp scrambles of flour that dropped off during the frying.  Knowing this, Mother scraped up every crisp bit and put it on the platter with the chicken.  After the chicken was devoured, she divided those scrambles among the kids.  They were delicious, a highly anticipated treat.  That evening, the chicken platter passed from on end of the table to the other several times.  Uncle Albert liked Mother’s chicken, too.  As he forked  the last piece, the unthinkable happened.  He tipped the platter up and poured all those beautiful scrambled bits onto his plate.  Our eyes were huge with horror.  Surely he hadn’t just scooped up all the best all for himself!  He had!  Mother shushed us with a look as he noisily crunched and chomped through the pile.  A more heartbreaking sound was never heard.   In just a few seconds, he finished off our stolen treat, then burped his appreciation, wiped his mouth, leaned back his chair and remarked, “That’s the best part of the chicken.  I ain’t never got enough.”

we knew just how he felt.

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.

Uncle Albert and Aunt Jewel, the Lowdown

imageAs I got a little older, I found out Uncle Albert and Aunt Jewel weren’t dull; they were just worn out.  Besides that, Uncle Albert had a fascinating physical attribute Daddy slipped up and mentioned one day, to his later regret.  Uncle Albert had a tail!  From that moment forward, my brother and I stalked him, probabably the first nasty little, Continue reading

Uncle Albert and Aunt Jewel

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Uncle Albert and Aunt Jewel were dull as mud.  All Uncle Albert ever said was “Don’t mess with that!” or “That’ll fall on you.”  Normally, Aunt Jewell only coughed and told us to go play outside, but some reason I once spent an endless afternoon with her when she made a point to converse with me. I was impressed when she’d told me an acronym for spelling the word contents.  “Coons ought not to eat nuts so soon.”  Then she laughed, saying coons didn’t eat nuts, squirrels did.  The joke was wasted on me, but I was surprised she had the wit to think something was funny.  I’d never heard her laugh before.  Her incessant smoking made her rattly laugh sound like nails scratching on tin,  She also told me that if you hit the bottom when you were falling in a dream, you’d die, as well no matter how long a dream seemed to last, it only took one second to dream it.

I knew Aunt Jewel had split Uncle Albert and his first wife up.  I studied this dumpy, gray -haired, old lady who coughed every breath wondering how he could have possibly have chosen her over anybody else.  She whined, stared off in the distance, and never had anything interesting to say.  Her only vaguely entertaining attribute was that she’d strung Crackerjack prizes together on a leather strip which she sometimes allowed me to play with as long as I sat on the floor in front of her, though she was oblivious to all my hints that I really needed them.

That pretty much wrapped up my relationship with Aunt Jewel, except the time she fell out the back door.  Uncle Albert offered her a cigarette.  She cried saying, ” I want a smoke so bad but I’m too sore to cough.”  That was the first time I’d seen an adult cry.

The Incredible Tale of Uncle Albert’s Tale

man with a tailWhy in the world did Daddy ever tell us Uncle Albert had a tail if we couldn’t ask questions or ask to see it?  The next few times I saw him, I followed him around, hoping his pants would fall down.  He was emaciated as only an eighty-five year-old life-long smoker can be.  It seemed like a real possibility.  For a while, every time I was around him, whenever Continue reading