Wednesday, August 18, 2010
One of those I'm Glad I knew!
My Uncle, Ralph Harley White, I will miss him!
I've had lots of thoughts that I've wanted to share over the past few months, they come and go, some bright and shinny others not so much. It seems lately that just bout the time I get a good groove mellowing in my head, the music up and changes. Monday I was on my way to Memphis to celebrate the birthday of a friend with friends at the restaurant above BB King's place. Bear Horne had invited me to the Gulf to fish for a few days and after dinner we gathered at Bear's on Mud Island so to leave early from there, but back at home life was deteriorating for a very beloved Uncle of mine.
My Uncle Ralph Harley White had helped raise me, he was one of those that took me to the woods at a very young age and taught me what he knew. Our families lived almost side by side for 16 years, his son, my first cousin Rowland is the same as my brother, his daughter Cynthia the same, my sister. Uncle Ralph was raised down a dirt road near Savannah Tennessee, a little poor but that makes a good southerner even better. He served in Germany during the War, pure army, and married my mother's sister "Mary Sue" when he came home. About 6:30am Tuesday I spoke to Cynthia my "sister cousin" while I was loading my gear up, up in Memphis. Cynthia said her Dad's condition was up and down and to go on and go fishing she would keep me updated. I hung up the phone, the dark sky began a mist of rain, a gentle rolling thunder seemed to announce what was coming while we waited there in the dawn for another fishing partner that was headed to the Gulf with us. Standing there in the street I began to recognize something in my soul I had felt only once before. It was many years ago when it woke me up in bed in the young hours of the morning at about the same time my Dad was breathing his last down in Mexico and it was knocking on my door again. It was Uncle Ralph that had got the call from my Dad's lawyer down in Costa Rica and it was a very shaken Uncle Ralph that called me that morning to tell me what news the lawyer spoke. I told Bear I had to go and left for home. Two hours later I stopped briefly at our house in Tuscumbia to get Sandi. I walked in, Sandi's phone rang, she looked at me and I new the news. My Uncle had crossed the river. I didn't know, but my phone had died shortly after I left Memphis, Uncle Ralph had died at 6:45am.
I had just spent the afternoon before with him. I held his hand, told him I loved and appreciated everything he ever did for me, kissed him many times and told him he would feel better tomorrow. I rubbed his forehead and eyebrows cause he couldn't but tried, and I knew it was from the itch that the Morphine gave. I brushed his hair, massaged his dieing legs now almost void of circulation and saw the tell tale splotches of death around his knees as we bathed him for what would turn out to be the last time. I sat there calming him when ever something passed his memory that gave him concern in his thoughts. I thought of my Dad, I wished I could have been there when he walked out of this world. Our families are all very close and as it goes when relatives pass we sit around talking about days past, the better times and good memories. I know so far all this has been a little dark but for me a little darkness makes me try harder to see what's there. In this case seeing what was there involved hearing a few choice stories from the archives of some of the family's over eighty crowd. Uncle Ralph's sister Olpha Dee (83) told me how She was in charge of her brother Ralph, how they used to sneak into the smoke house and she'd pull up a plank in the floor which revealed the secret hiding place of their Dad's big jug of Moonshine. We laughed as she told how she would shake and roll the jug around, "being too heavy for her to pick up," then pull the corn cob cork out and let Ralph suck it, put it back and shake it again and take a lick herself. She was six at the time and Ralph was four. I asked her if she remembered feeling a little high? Yes, she said we were high, we had to be, there were twelve of us children, all wild, and me and Ralph, well that was just our little secret, we just thought we were grown ups.
I remember the day Ralph drove up in his black sedan, maybe a forty something Chevrolet, I must have been 7 or 8. We had an old widower uncle from Mississippi that came and stayed with my Grand Pa and Grand Ma in the summers. We called him Uncle Make. Make, ( Malcolm McNeily Christian) and a few other neighbors gathered around the trunk of the old car to see the dead Bobcat my Uncle had found lying on the side of the road freshly run over. When Ralph raised the lid of the trunk there was a sudden mirage of fur that came alive and proceeded in one long jump to clear the trunk and about six feet of vacant air to land all four feet at once on the chest of Make. Along with the measured flight of fangs, teeth, and claws there was a very errie sound that I could only describe at this time as the sound of some sort of gurgling gargling siren, undulating it's way through that short space on its destined intersection with a well dressed ninety year old gentleman that had a very unique look of horror on his old leather face. It was over in seconds, but I can still remember the seemingly long minutes it took that creature to reach its destination. Slowly and with almost a look of glee coming from the curved back lips and barred teeth that exposed the streams of saliva dripping off the bloody tongue and hairy chin, the Wild Cat closed the distance again as if in slow motion and upon arrival it furiously unleashed what must have been the ultimate pent up rage of pure revenge derived from the 2 hours of dark imprisonment bumping and swerving down the road in the hot, dusty, dark, and very gas fume rich prison. Not to mention the horror of waking up there from a, 40 mph, steel bumper induced coma. For all that Cat knew he had woke up in Hell. My Uncle Make never knew what hit him. Scratched from the top of his now, (fedora-less) head down to his chin, and on down his neck the Cat had turned that skinny Black Tie into Ribbons, he even eliminated the top button and shredded the tips of the collar points. The white shirt was button less except for the one tucked into his pants his old withered stomach and the bones of his ribs all raked raw. As the Cat was gone as fast as he arrived, we all could only move at a snails pace, still in disbelief. Looking down starring at Uncle Make lying at my feet and looking very dead, the last drops of his blood spattered across his frayed but heavily starched white shirt, his old black suit wet with his perspiration and the saliva of the foaming at the mouth, "deeply" I say, emotionally scarred Wild Cat that come all the way from lying in a dirt road off Highway 20 near mile marker 29, east of (Savannah), "Savanner", as Uncle Ralph and the family called it to here and just up and killed my Uncle Make. Well he wasn't dead, no not by a very long shot. He told me later he was just making sure that thing, whatever it was was gone before he let on that he was still kickin.
One more about Make, My Mothers Mother Ethel liked to shake her head and tell this story about Make. It seems that someone had died back when I was still very young. I know this cause they didn't pave the road in front of the house till I was 9 or 10 I think, so I must have been around 5-6. Anyway, Maw maw said that they were sittin up with the body, something they did back then. They'd take turns sittin up all night with the body lying in state in the living room, all the furniture removed of course and folks could come and go as they pleased, I guess 24-7. Make and a few men were at the dinning table drinkin coffee and talkin very low and quite like. Make could remember the Indians in the area. He had lived and traveled to the Oklahoma Territories, some of his and our relatives had went there in covered wagons. Well Maw Maw told how there was a quart mason jar of pepper sauce sitting on the table, along with the salt pepper shaker and the sugar bowl. The talk had died down and Make decided he was bored I guess or just needed a little something to help wake him up. He asked Maw Maw for a fork and proceeded to rummage around in the pepper sauce jar till he found a nice long pepper and plopped the whole thing in his mouth. More coffee was served, a little talking began and Make seemed to be enjoying his pepper. Maw maw said as she giggled her way through it that Male wallered and chewed that pepper around in his mouth for some time and finally he looked a lot bewildered as he spit the thing out of his mouth into he palm of his hand and then slapped the table with hit so hard it turned the salt shaker over. keeping his hand spread flat holding the chewed pepper between it and the table top, he slowly lifted one side of his hand, head bent over as if to peer under his hand and at with a hop he lifted hjs hand and yelled, "Now Blaze Damn Ya!"
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- Just Another Savage!
- I’m a Southern Boy, just 56 last November, I get around here and there, Central America, Africa, Red Bay. I’m a Father, Grandfather, Husband, Artist and general flunky of sorts. Live in a little historic town in an old building I remodeled. Just wanted to hear myself think I guess, talk about the need of simplification, show some art, express an interest or two, brag on my dogs and see where it goes. That’s it!, That’s the deal, Thanks