Saturday we buried my sweet Papaw (that’s the term for grandfather we use here in Appalachia.) There is no other man in my life who has exemplified a good natured, hard working, family man more than Papaw. A quintessential Kentuckian. He worked on his farm, raised his children with a firm but gentle hand, went […]
Tonight I’m having problems finding the photo I really want so this is a poor substitute.
His first words to us when my Aunt brought him to meet the family were “Hi, I’m Sam”. I don’t know about the rest of the cousins, but I thought that was his real name, probably they thought so also, because until his passing a few hours ago, he was our Uncle Sam. A sweet, mischievous and fun loving man, he put my aunt on a pedestal and she remained there all these years. I’ve been trying to remember the year they married but it’s kinda hard to remember the year I married, and mine was several years later. I do remember the dresses his sister and I wore in their wedding, blue chiffon with handkerchief skirts. My mom made our dresses and she swore never again! Having done some stitch-work in my own right I know where she was coming from. A gorgeous fabric that creeps and stretches while being stitched but that looks so wonderful when finished. A challenge at any time but with her vintage Singer it was beyond challenging. But Mom could make anything on that old Singer, the very one I later learned to sew on.
I know it was 50+ years ago, in the early 1960’s, because I already knew how to wobble along in high heels but then it could have been in the late 1950’s. I remember what a perfect couple they made — he cleaned up really well. Mama Ree, as I now call my aunt, wore a long white satin gown, probably made by mom’s other sister, Eleanor, also a gifted and talented seamstress/tailor. I’m not sure about this, but it would be my guess at this point. Somewhere I have the photo of the happy couple. Naturally, since I wanted to add it tonight it is put away “in a safe place” where all of my stuff winds up, never to be seen again until a few days after when I’m asking myself “I wonder why this was so important at the time?”
My Uncle called her his “Little Flower” for reasons I won’t go into here. He fit right in with this family, jokers all, each with his or her own special “talent” when it came to practical jokes. For a few moments, while we were with our aunt today — or yesterday as of now, Diane, Doris and I were remembering some of the old days, one especially bad one when Diane and I were on the school bus on our way home. That will be a story for another day though. The discussion was mostly about the ice and snow in our forecast for tonight and tomorrow. We didn’t have ice storms back then. Just the real snow, suitable for snow ice cream, snow angels, snowmen, snowballs, snow forts…you think of it and there was an uncle or cousin who did it!
I once read a book written by Sam’s older brother about their upbringing in the Ozark mountain area of Arkansas or Missouri — not very sure at this point where exactly, but the book described Sam’s early years with his family. His brothers would hunt for the critters they then put in cages for Sam to watch over until they were needed for Sunday dinner. I remember how Sam and I laughed and teased about this book — before my mom read a few pages and shredded it. Since she had also shredded “Hawaii” by James Michenor in the very early ’60’s, before I ever had a chance to read it, the latter shredding didn’t surprise me at all. Just another minor irritation combined with the feeling of “why?” She never explained it and after a while I stopped asking. But Sam told me stories about growing up that had me rolling with laughter one minute while crying at the poverty he endured the next. And he came out of it with that marvelous sense of humor intact and undamaged.
His final illness was short, on Sunday he ate a good meal, assisted by my cousin, Diane. On Monday we thought he had up to six months left with us, on Tuesday Diane and Greg, another cousin, were informing the family that it was less than a week, and on Wednesday, thankfully after my daughter arrived to visit him with me as her passenger, we got the message that Uncle Sam is now flying with the angels. He suffered from Alzheimer’s the last couple of years, but he always seemed to remember Gina. I am forever grateful to Greg for telling her to get here immediately. And he always, without fail in the beginning at least, knew she was “my woman” as he put it to me during the past summer. It didn’t matter so much that he couldn’t always say her name. He just never forgot that she was his woman, his love, his life. She has been with him around the clock for all this time, waking to see if he needed something each time he turned over in bed, each time he was restless, each time his breathing was different in the last few days. What a love story they shared, and what a wonderful life together all these years. Rest in Peace, Uncle Sam.