The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Making A Name For Yourself

By David Craig © 1986

Issue: April, 1986

I suppose it was because Ellen never got far from these hills was why she named our two sons after cities; Sydney and Houston. At least she let her imagination go international, I hate to think what would have happened if she had had only a map of New York state to pick from. I could have had me a little Rochester and Poughkeepsie running around here.

I didn't cotton to the names of course, I always figured a boy should have a strong one syllable name like Buck or Rex. Ellen said those names sounded like dogs to her. I was to embarrassed to tell her I'd had an old coon dog named Rex as a kid.

Ellen got her way. I could never say no to that woman. Well, when I did say no the no turned to maybe, to perhaps, to becoming an established fact.

That's how Uncle Earl came to live with us. He was a good soul but a might slow in the attic, if you get my drift. And boy, could he put the food away. When he got to gnawing and a crunching his molars it sounded like a herd of buffalo munching new spring grass after a long cold winter. If you put a little butter on the banisters, I'm sure he would have swallowed it right down and asked for seconds.

Well, it got down to where I wasn't more than a walking skeleton because Uncle Earl was stuffing it in so fast he was getting fork-wounds on his face!

I took to leaving around some vile smelling stogies hoping he would take a yen to them and maybe they would help curb his appetite, they just seemed to spur him on to new heights of gastronomical history.

Every evening I would come home and the living room would smell like a wet dog on a warm night and Uncle Earl would be lying there with his feet propped up on my couch pretending to read the funny papers.

I say pretending to read because Uncle Earl couldn't spell cat if I spotted him the C and T. There he would be a chuckling and a chortling over the latest antics of Katzenjammer Kids with his belly a bouncing against the newspaper while my innards sent S.O.S. signals through my famished frame. It looked like I was going to die from either starvation or the black lung from Uncle Earl's cigars. I tell you I was getting to look like Deputy Barney Fife on a forty-day fast. I had even bought some of that diet chocolate candy for dear ole Earl but he scuffed it down like a mule eating briars and smiled in his most peculiar way. Uncle Earl seemed to eat everything that didn't move.

Finally, Ellen, bless her heart, hit upon the idea that the whole family was beginning to run to fat and decided we must all go on a diet. I tell you she wasn't far wrong in Uncle Earl's case. He looked like an old pussel-gutted possum who had been gorging on persimmons. By this time my arms and legs had dwindled to the size of a grasshopper's.

But Ellen's tuna-fish diet did the trick. One week of that and only that and Uncle Earl was ready to holler "Uncle." He hightailed it out of here like a missionary running from the cannibals. I tell you I was right glad to see his backsides disappearing over the hill for he had begun to look at our dog Duke with a most disturbing glint in his eye.

Come to think of it Ellen had a lot of strange kin. But I suppose everybody could say the same thing about their spouse's relatives. Some of Ellen's crew though could host a right-smart family reunion in the loony-bin.

I think some of the family tree's branches had been pruned a little too close to the limb if you get my drift.

There was this one female relative of hers who loved the movie "Singing In The Rain." Well, her son bought her a VCR and a copy of the movie. They say she watched it over and over and pretended she was Debbie Reynolds. She looked more like Burt Reynolds, if you ask me. Well, the family finally admitted she was losing it when she'd wear nothing, nothing but a rain-cap and her galoshes while watching it. Just goes to show you the power of the movies on a fertile imagination.

Then there was Ellen's Uncle Silas Saunders who kept four refrigerators running day and night in his front parlor. He didn't have nothing in 'em, just four empty ice-boxes. He said the sound of 'em sorta soothed his nerves. I always thought Uncle Earl and Uncle Silas would make a good team, but when I mentioned this to Ellen she seemed to take offense. Well, a sense of humor was never Ellen's strong suit anyway.

Well, to get back to my family, my sons that is, I don't reckon there's ever been two more different brothers to come down the pike.

Sydney was dark and had a gloomy way of looking at the world. He worried a lot about the condition of his soul, I troubled myself a great deal about that boy. For a while there I worried he might want to be a preacher or a poet. Houston called him the "Prince of Darkness."

But he turned out all right, at least some folks seem to think so. He's a professor. Seems like he had a natural flair for literature, especially Russian literature. He tried to tell me once about symbols and such but to tell you the truth I couldn't make heads or tails of it. Think he likes 'em because they are just as gloomy and wordy as he is.

Houston was different, he was a real hell-raiser from the get go. Flaxen hair and a few too many freckles to be called handsome, that boy was a hand-full. When he was not laughing he was looking to laugh.

He had a lot of trouble in school, he wasn't what you would call lazy just a natural glider. He also didn't hit it off too well with his teachers. He told one she was so ugly she could haunt a ten-room house. I don't know where the boy got it from, it must be Ellen's side of the family.

Houston could have probably been a writer too, his teacher once told me he had a natural born affinity for lying.

But Houston got killed in the Korean War. Or police action as they called it. Seems like we can't even have a good war anymore, just these little piddling no-count wars.

Well, I don't want to leave you with all these gloomy thoughts. I prefer to remember Houston like he was as a kid, a laughing and a joking.

When you get old you remember the past more often, the past and the people are your connection and tap root to life, and every year that tap root dies a little.

I'm a grandfather now, and Ellen is a right spritely grandmother, if I do say so myself.

Sydney has a son named Bob, I'm glad he didn't name him Boris or Ivan. He looks exactly like Sydney but you would never know he was his son, because he's just like Houston when he was young, his mischievousness and that crooked smile.

Sometimes it almost breaks your heart.

Don't that beat all.