Love for an Uncle
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by Frank Shortt
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Uncles have a special place in the hearts of nephews. Even if a favorite uncle
has a severe fault, a nephew is very forgiving and overlooks the problem. This was the case in my relationship with Uncle Clar who
was one of the most generous persons I ever met. Although he had a bad drinking habit, causing most of our family members much chagrin,
I was never the one to get angry with him, except one time…..
had been out drinking away his weekly, hard earned paycheck all day on Saturday. He would work like a quarry slave all week just to
go to town on Saturday and throw all his money away on cheap beer. Dick Kane’s beer joint down in the town of Ravine was where he
usually ended up spending most of his time and money. Hard whiskey, being illegal to have except from the Federal store, could only
be obtained from “bootleggers”. One would think that after spending all week slaving in a low-roofed coal mine that Uncle Clar would
think twice about pouring his wages down a crawdad hole. The urge to drink alcohol must have outweighed his ability to think. Nevertheless,
he was brought out to the road leading to our house and dumped off by a local cab driver. The cab driver was not inclined to drive
up that dirt road which was one-half mile long and lined with ruts made by the coal trucks to end up stuck up to the axels in mud
until the next day when a tow truck might just happen along. There were no telephones on Shack Ridge.
The snowstorm started around two p.m. and had already dumped out about eight inches of wet snow. When snow is dry it is less likely
to stick to one’s boots as he treads through it, but when wet, it sticks like glue and builds up until it is almost impossible to
walk. When Uncle Clar arrived at out house he was almost frozen from falling in the ruts and having to pull himself up. His boots
were caked with snow and there was ice frozen to his jeans and shirt. Mom pulled him onto the screened-in porch and began trying to
get his boots off so she didn’t have the extra job of mopping up the melted snow afterwards. She finally succeeded in getting the
boots off as well as the wet shirt but left his pants on even though she knew there would be a mess to clean up. God knows she had
enough to do cleaning up after the eight children that still lived at home. Why Uncle Clar didn’t wear a coat was the thought foremost
in our minds.
“Where in the world have you been? mom asked, although she already
knew. Why do you always waste your money that way? You should be helping out the poor families around here instead of just throwing
your money away.”
“Aw, Stell, I just had a few beers and someone stole my coat
and wallet.” This was slurred out through almost frozen lips.
Clar down to the basement and get him into bed”, mom cried disgustedly.
I’ve got to get home” Clar replied, as he asked to borrow a coat and some old shoes of my fathers’.
There was no way mom, or any of us, could convince him that the best thing for him was to spend the night with us. Even though some
of us kids would have to sleep on the floor and give Uncle Clar our bed, we were more than glad to do so under the circumstances.
Snow had steadily fallen until there must have been almost a foot of the slushy stuff on the ground.
Grandpa’s house, where Uncle Clar lived, lay about two miles from our place almost straight up a rugged hillside . Grandpa had bought
the place from my dad’s father and had cleared the land around it which provided a pretty good living for all of his twelve children,
but at this time in the late fifties, the only one remaining at home was Uncle Clar. He was separated from his wife and was living
with Grandpa until he could get adjusted enough to move back to his own house. Some say he drank because he and his wife could have
no children. It was also told that his wife had left him because of the drinking habit he had acquired while serving Uncle Sam during
World War Two. We will probably never know the whole of the matter.
will you help me up the hill, begged Uncle Clar, I’ll make it up to you someday when I get another payday.”
For a thirteen year old boy to consent to this was like pulling all my teeth without Novocain. I was a very skinny teenager and not
very strong at all. I could not turn Uncle Clar down because he had always been very good to me and was my favorite Uncle. Besides,
I could always get a cigarette from him when I wanted one.
“I don’t know how
much help I can be, I’d probably just be in the way.” I spoke this as I imploringly looked at mom.
She gave no hint of impeding me from going.
“Oh no, he replied, all you have
to do is steady me a little and we’ll make it up the hill just fine.”
would be better said than done as I knew how steep those Virginia hillsides were and how narrow the trail was in some spots. If a
person ever started sliding into one of those deep gullies, no telling what kind of injury would be sustained.
After getting Uncle all bundled up and putting on my only old “jump jacket” we started out in the storm for we knew not what. I didn’t
know if my rundown, roughout brogans could handle the trip up the mountain, but I was determined to do all I could to get Uncle home.
This trip required us to go straight up a winding hollow, circle around some
fallen logs, walk gingerly along a deep gully and finally wind our way to the top of the hill to Grandpa’s house . We were fine for
the first mile or so while I still had my full strength, then we came to the fallen logs.
“Let’s stop here for a little rest,” Uncle said, as he seated himself down on one of the logs.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” was my reply, because I knew that after he got down it would be very difficult to get him up again.
He had continued to drink from a bottle that he had hidden outside mom’s door.
He had slipped the bottle into his pocket as we left the house. My prediction came true as it took me quite awhile to get him on his
feet. By this time the slushy snow had leaked through my brogans and my feet were beginning to feel like two ice cubes. Snow had stuck
to my pant legs and packed on my shoe bottoms until each step became a burden. Uncle was in the same predicament and I was almost
having to carry him. If I had not known how to pray, I learned quickly that night.
As we neared the deep gully I tried with all my strength to get Uncle to the upper side of me away from the gully, but being inebriated,
he became stubborn and wouldn’t allow me to change positions. I knew that if allowed to continue the way we were he would pull us
both into the hole and possible kill both of us as we landed on the sharp snags and rocks below. He kept his position and I prayed
for the strength to hold him away from the precipice. Just as we were halfway through the perilous trail, the snow having built up
on Uncle’s feet caused him to start sliding over the edge. I had no alternative but to let go allowing Uncle to slide into the gully.
“Are you ok?” I pleadingly asked.
“Yes, he slurred back, “I’m just takin’ a rest”.
Being young and inexperienced
in such things, my only thought was “How can I get him out of the hole and back on his feet.”
By now I was crying crocodile tears. I could return home for some help, but then Uncle might freeze to death before I could return.
I could go on to Grandpa’s house, but then I remembered that he had gone to a meeting in West Virginia and wouldn’t return until Monday.
What could I do? To whom could I turn? My only alternative was to pray and pray I did.
“Oh God, I know that you exist, and I have seen You answer prayers for my dad”. If it be your will, please help me to get Uncle out
of this hollow and up to his bed.”
Miraculously, by this time the snow had
stopped falling and I thought I could see a way to get down to where my uncle lay.
How I did the impossible task, I still do not understand, but I went down the steep side of the gully, somehow got my uncle to his
feet, and coaxed, begged, cried, and cursed, because by this time I was thoroughly mad at him, and finally got him up to the top again.
Lo and behold, He almost fell again and where I got the strength to stop him from pulling both of us down, I have to trust that it
was an answer to my prayer.
The rest of the way seemed easy compared to the
ordeal of getting Uncle Clar out of the gully so by sheer faith and unseen strength, I was able to get him home and finally to bed.
I built a fire in the little Burnside stove and after awhile got all thawed out. My hands and feet ached from the feeling returning
to the affected parts. I had tucked the covers around Uncle Clar to keep him from freezing. His snores told me he was resting and
in no danger of freezing to death. He only sustained a few scrapes and bruises from the fall but I knew he was going to be really
sore when he sobered up next morning.
Many times since that perilous night
I have been through trials, temptations, and ordeals, but never have I felt the desolation experienced that night by a young boy trying
to save two lives . I have always believed that an angel came and did the impossible and that I was just there to see it happen.
Faith is a revelation that a work is finished before we ask.