Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My Uncle Bernie

Well, he was really my great uncle...  Anyway, since my mom passed away in June, I've spent a lot more time with my father.  I've also paid a lot closer attention to the stories that he tells about his childhood.  After all, I may some day have to pass these family stories down myself.  Then again, I don't have any kids.  I guess I could tell my god kids, but they wouldn't understand the dynamic of my family.  Maybe my cousin will pass it on to his kids.  In the meantime, I guess I'll share this one with you.

My Uncle Bernie was a character.  He was my grandmother's brother (father's side) and he is the subject of many funny, family stories.  For the most part, he was very mild-mannered and didn't have much to say.  That is, until you get a drink or two in him.

When my Uncle Bernie had a few sips, he became a "Me vs. The World" type of guy.  I remember him when I was younger and I'm guessing I was about 10 years old or so when he passed away.  Of course, I was too young to remember a lot of his antics that may have occurred when I was around.  After all, kids used to be kids back then.  We stayed out of grown people's business.

My father told me of a story that happened before I was born about a man who once came by looking for my great aunt, Leanne.  Who this man was is still a mystery to us to this day because Uncle Bernie rarely asked questions. He just frustrated you with short answers until you left him alone.

Uncle Bernie was sitting on the porch having a drink and cleaning his church shoes when a car pulled up.  My uncle was immediately skeptical because he didn't recognize the car.  Out pops a middle-aged white guy dressed in a suit.  Now, I specify the man's race because it does play a role in the story.  My uncle was not a fan of white people (especially back when this incident occurred - approx. 1960).  Luckily, that's not a trait that I inherited.  Quite a few of my older relatives had some very bad experiences with racism prior to 1975 before things got slightly better in Mississippi.

So, when it came to Uncle Bernie: Alcohol + White Men = Sarcasm.  The man approached the porch and my uncle never looked up from cleaning his shoes.  "How are you doing, sir?" the man asked.

"I'm doing well," Uncle Bernie replied.

"Is Leanne home?"

"No, she isn't."

"Do you know where she is?" the man asked as he put his foot on the first step of the porch.

Not my uncle's house, but it does look like it a bit.
That's when my Uncle Bernie looked up, first glancing at the foot on his porch and then the man.  My uncle was a skinny guy (his nickname was "Rib").  About 5'8" and 115 lbs.  He talked slowly with a raspy voice and he had a look that he would give you as if he wanted to punch you in the mouth.  He gave that look to the man.

"Yeah, I know where she is," he finally replied after staring at the man for up to 10 seconds.

The man paused for the answer of my aunt's location only to be met with silence as Uncle Bernie lowered his head and focused back on cleaning his shoes.  After about 10 more seconds of silence, the man finally spoke softly, "can you tell me where?"

Uncle Bernie looked up again.  He's clearly agitated at this point because he's being disturbed from cleaning his shoes.  After another uncomfortable moment of silence, "Yeah, I can tell you...  She's at the church."

There was a church within walking distance of where my uncle lived.  It was a church in which a majority of our family were members.  "Do you expect her back soon?" the man asked knowing that he was pushing his luck.


"How long has she been gone?"

Uncle Bernie then looked up and put his shoes down which caused the nervous man to take his foot off the first step of the porch.  "About 15 years," he replied while staring intensely.

The man laughed at what he thought was a joke until he realized that my uncle wasn't laughing.  "Okay, I'll go up there and see if I can find her," the man said as he put his hat back on and turned towards his car.

He had just gotten his right leg in his vehicle when my uncle got his attention one last time, "Hey," he started.  "don't you want to know where to find her when you get there?"

"Yes, sir, that would be most helpful," smiled the man thinking he'd finally broken through my great uncle's tough exterior.

Uncle Bernie started rattling off directions, "go into the church parking lot and go all the way to the back.  Get out and walk about 30 feet and look down.  She's buried right next to my daddy's grave."

The man looked horrified and mad at the same time after he put 2 and 2 together.  He never responded as he quickly got in his car and sped away up the dirt road leaving a huge trail of dust.

My great Uncle Bernie sure was mean when he was drunk.

Do you have a family member who just doesn't play nicely with others?

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