Monday, September 12, 2005

Of Whiskey and Fish

Uncle R.L. and Lake Spence stripers

Last weekend I traveled to a little west Texas town to attend the funeral of my uncle. He wasn't my relative by birth, but he couldn't have been more special to me or our family. Closer than brothers, Uncle R.L. and my dad were fast friends for many many years. They served in the Texas National Guard, fished and grew old together. When my dad passed away in 2000, I think it was harder to bear Uncle R.L.'s grief than my own.

By the numbers in attendance at his gravesite service, it was apparent my admiration for R.L. was shared by lots of folks. He would have laughed to have seen all the sandal-shod women dancing in the grass from rogue fire ant attacks and trying to maintain their solemn decorum. The casket spray was made to order with beautiful flowers and adorned with a dip net and a few of his famous homemade lures. Perfect.

Later, gathered at the family home brimming with cousins, we all shared in the laughter and tears and the retelling of the best stories. I looked around the kitchen last Friday evening and realized how many of our beloved relatives and friends might be gone by next September and the feeling was bittersweet. This is a part of aging that I don't enjoy - the loss of the people close to me; those so tied to my youth and growing up.

I will share this one little story about R.L. and my dad:

During their National Guard service years, my dad and R.L. were both in Company "B". One afternoon while walking back to his barracks, my dad noticed that the boys in Company "C" had adorned their commanding officer's jeep with a fancy artful hand-painted slogan: "Charlie's Chariot". Much bragging and one-upmanship ensued.

Not to be outdone, Dad took a can of paint during the night right after bed check and sneaked over to HIS commanding officer's jeep to even the score. Next morning, the CO was none to happy to see "Bellow's Blend" christening his wheels. I believe Dad peeled a field of potatoes for his role in the caper.

For the uninitiated, Bellows is a blended whiskey, cheap, strong and pungent. When my dad lay dying in his bed at the Hospice care center five years ago, he made a private request to my brother: to purchase a half-gallon bottle of Bellows and give it to Uncle R. L. after the funeral service. My brother completed his mission and Uncle R.L. was laughing as hard as he was crying when that bottle was unwrapped. It was then that we heard the real story behind this beyond-the-grave prank my dad managed to pull.

Uncle R.L's obituary is here and my past remembrance is here. (Oh, and the Bear still gets a pissed-off look in his eyes when we tell the gas heater story ere these long 40+ years.) I will miss this fine gentleman, his stories and the lopsided smile that crept slowly over his face when he was in the midst of "tellin' a good one". Just like the arrowhead relics he collected all his life, he was the rare treasure among men.

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