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Uncle Bubby's Place
He waves from his seat on the red riding mower, tall stalks of corn towering over him. Aunt Punkie, his sister, parks the station wagon in the gravel and I jump out.
“Well, I’ll be! Would you look at yourself,” he says. “I swear, last time you was in pigtails.”
I run across the newly mown grass. Country air soothes my stomach, shaky from the winding ride.
“Hey girl, did you get sick again going over them there mountains?” He laughs, climbs down from his high seat. I shake my head and grin. No begging wash rags off strangers to clean me up this time. I lean in, give him a hug, happy to see he still looks the same, only older. Same twinkly eyes and beer belly, minus the yeasty smell of hops. He’s become a legend at the AA meetings. Says it saved his life, after he locked himself in his room with that gun.
Retirement from the factory hit him hard, back when they lived in town. He hated being cooped up in the house, nothing to do. They went over the hill to their country cabin, but not often. He’d roam the woods, shoot a rabbit or quail, deer if he was lucky. But his aim wasn’t steady after a few beers.
tending the garden
overhead a gopher
in the hawk’s talons
“He’ll shoot his foot off one of these days,” his wife, Joyce, had said. A small woman with beehive hair, buck teeth and a ferocious Virginia backwoods accent. She had every closet in the house packed with glass figurines from Avon. “Trash,” my grandmaw would say. The family never quite took to her.
But Joyce was no dummy. Even in the middle of the night, she knew to call Aunt Punkie that time. Otherwise, he’d have blown his head off for sure. Punkie talked him into giving her the gun. She was the only one he’d listen to.
A few years after that, he started getting restless again. Joyce insisted they move over the mountain full-time. No one outside the family understood. She’d be far from town and her grown kids, and the only grandson, about to be born. But she was saving Uncle Bubby’s life, a second time. Without his hands in the dirt, his feet on that land, he’d be back on the booze. And that’d be the end of him.
Today, a decade, or even two, has passed since my visit to their country place. Aunt Joyce tends the garden now, standing by her man.
with his one good arm