Better than Fiction (non fiction)
from ALONG THE PATHWAY HOME:
Vignettes and Prose-Poems of Childhood, Chapter 16.
Nois-sir was what the middle uncle used to say coming across the yard. Moving and suddenly for no reason stopping with not much on his mind. Maybe a truckload of logs, or the long trip to Maryland where he worked at the mill. Grabbing my lunch bag, I imagined him in the cab or maybe even on the back, spitting out on the roads that took him from home and hardly wanted to bring him back—the long, narrow La Plata bridge, he said one night in the dark, he was scared to go across.
He was kind like that, told you things you wanted to know, looking up kind of sideways in the room I shared with him. How long I been here? Two years? Nois-sir—you been down here most of your life—off and on. Y’all lived here when you was born—‘fore y'all went over on the dirt road. Y'all stayed with ya’ mamma’s mamma for a while and Tomcat—your daddy's buddy. Then here you are again, smiling but still kind of a memory I hadn't had.
He didn't use the word too much with me, just sometimes I think because he was used to saying it to his daddy and the white boss man he and my daddy sometimes also worked for across the field. The oldest aunt used it, too, and she was much like him in the mystery she seemed to keep in her pockets and alongside pillows, sometimes dangling out like soft pink tissues. He never married but often looked like a pretty girl was lost in his eyes. A tall, square body like an old picture frame with an old chief stuck in it.
He was also wiry as a ball of twine, and his long flannel sleeves and shirttail would try to unroll themselves in the March wind. Most of the time they would not. His green work pants jacked up like a giraffe's, a pony with bushy hoofs. But he was no good at running. He walked at a steady pace. Stopped sometimes to take in the air that was always moving. Passing the wardrobe with the gray mirror, he hardly looked up. He didn't care much about how he looked.
No'm, I'm riding with Merridge today, the oldest aunt said to grandmamma where he stood under a large rusty nail in a tree. Granddaddy, brown as morning biscuits, didn't like the idea. There's a lot of foolishness out there, and the aunt in her work apron wiped her mouth ‘cause she also had asthma like the uncle.
Her little brother who then was a man a little like a scarecrow waiting beside a tree didn't say too much in general except if I got real close to him. Then he would only talk mostly one sentence at a time—except when he had his bottle, which was a lot. Wild Turkey and Virginia Gentleman—clear moonshine in a Mason jar with a golden cap. (He hid 'em everywhere.) Beside the bush—against the dinted wall of the bed. Then he would slur and beat against the wall and cuss like there was somebody there.
There was nobody there.
A sober angel, he said it to granddaddy who would pass him near the stable on his way to the fields as if he were passing a white man on the street, though granddaddy was often spry and smiled at strangers and if he stopped long enough would recite a good joke from old times or a bible verse. Good to see you, Cap'n. The son was no joke having come close to death, the young smart aunt told me, as he ailed as a teenager and some had given up on him. His mother though took up for him. A quiet feather came to his bed and I think she brushed his head, and the house quietly moaned and pulled a bit closer the two youngest girls’ droopy pigtails, though the oldest aunt was best at getting the girls to sit up straight.
Granddaddy, though, must have bristled. Yessum, he said to the mother he loved, he alright.
Along the cold, winding road past the abandoned cemetery to my small colored school in Miller’s Tavern, I looked it up, and it ain't in the dictionary. The things my uncle must have said and thought getting in the blue pickup—nor what my aunt said to the girls looking down at their socks. The words I hid in lunch pails and between secret pages because they made the Tappahannock children snigger. With a window half down—and a hack forming deep in his throat, without words—my favorite uncle headed for the bridge named for the land and many tribes none of us for years ever knew.
Author's Note. The perspective is that of an 8 to 10 year old boy in the 60's on a farm along the Rappahannock River near the town of Tappahannock.
Larry D. Giles was born in Richmond, Virginia. Educated at Livingstone College, Virginia Commonwealth University, and the University of Virginia, he taught English and writing at his high school alma mater in Essex County and for the city of Richmond. While at Richmond, he received two writing fellowships, teacher of the year, the prestigious REB Award for Teaching Excellence, and an educational leadership fellowship. His work appears at Highlandparkpoetry.org and in the River City Poets Anthology, 2018. His first book Flesh and Blood: Collected Poems of Mind, Body, and Spirit is currently in publication with NavWorks Press.