For a couple days, my brother hosted all of us for food, hayrides, and a firepit. The last time I saw so many friendly faces from my childhood was at my father's funeral a few years ago. Everybody appreciated the opportunity to, as one cousin kept saying, "get together for a GOOD reason." It becomes more apparent as years go by that we might not see each other again, and this reunion was appreciative and reasonably friendly.
For the hardy and well-rested, the evening ended around my brother's firepit, with a cooler of drinks by the chairs, and a rural sky full of stars overhead. Children ran around in the brisk night, occasionally coming to roost on a reassuring adult lap. And catch-up conversation evolved, as all night time talk around fires will, to stories.
Many people in my family are good storytellers, which I like to attribute to Native American, Irish, and French blood. Some stories told on those two nights revisited family idiosyncrasies, or warned of relationship problems, or reminded us of shared history. Some stories I had not heard before.
My brother told a story I hadn't heard before, about my mom's older brother, Uncle Vernon. Vernon had saved Mom once, as a child, from drowning in the Kaskaskia river (or was it the Mississippi river?), by grabbing her by her hair as she went down for the third time. He pulled her out of the current and to the shore, thereby insuring all of her children of a future. That story we had heard many times, from Mom. Vernon went on to join the Navy in WW2, got married, moved to a nearby state, and produced three of my favorite cousins (who were all at Mom's party, by the way). He brought his family to visit ours often. As my cousins got older, Uncle Vernon sometimes came to visit by himself, and sometimes stayed with my brother when he did. Uncle Vernon died several years ago, but remains very much alive in our memories.
My brother loved Uncle Vernon. He prefaced his story this night, in the dark around the fire, by saying yeah, Vernon was a big guy, well built, about 6'6" (I don't remember him being THAT big, although he was a big guy. But the cooler had been accessed a few times at this point and maybe all the facts weren't straight as they could've been). Then he said that Vernon had been a Golden Glove boxer in the Navy, which I didn't know. The story concerned one of the times when Uncle Vernon had visited my brother, driving several hours from Kansas. Vernon was about 70 at the time. He wasn't much of a drinker, but he was tired driving and decided to stop in a little town about an hour from his destination. The establishment he walked into (one of only two in the town, we all compared notes as we tried to figure which place he had stopped at) was nearly empty, with 3 other patrons and the bartender. Uncle Vernon ordered a cold beer and a sandwich. While he was eating, one of the men in the bar got up and came over to sit at the bar next to Vernon, crowding him. Vernon moved over for a little more room. The man moved over against him, again. Vernon moved a little further away.
The third time this happened, Vernon looked at the man and said, "Excuse me, sir, am I in your way?" The man said, "As a matter of fact you are." So, my brother reports, Vernon laid him out on the floor. He then looked at the two patrons remaining, and asked "Do you want any part of this?" They both said, "No, sir." Vernon finished his sandwich and drove on his way.
Makes me proud to be part of the family. Great story, great night, and a great memory sharing the memory. That, I am coming to believe, is one of the nicest things about growing old: remembering good things.