As often happens, my muse has a tendency to be elusive, so I have elected to revisit a previously written memory. It’s rather a long tale, so I will post it in 2 chapters. Hope you enjoy traveling back in back in time with me as I revisit my childhood. Maybe, you will be tempted to do likewise.
Lynda K. Dunnigan March 2018
CURIOSITY AND UNCLE WILL’S KITCHEN
As I surveyed the clutter on my kitchen counter and began to clean and restore order, childhood memories flooded my mind. They weren’t of my mother’s ordered kitchen, but of my Great Uncle Will and the kitchen I was forbidden to visit.
Uncle Will was a solitary crusty old bachelor, who lived in the upstairs apartment in my Aunt’s house. He was a mountain man in every sense of the word. Many years retired from the railroad, his greatest joy was wandering around the Alleghany Mountains surrounding our small town, hunting, fishing, and searching for natural treasures – nuts, berries, the elusive ginseng, and other roots and herbs. He knew all the trees, even without their leaves, could identify all the plants on both sides of the mountains, and knew where wild berries grew, just waiting to be picked. There wasn’t an animal or birdcall he couldn’t recognize. He knew the best fishing holes and just where to find grouse and deer. With clear vision and a sharp eye, many rabbits and squirrels made it home in the pockets of his hunting jacket, then into Grandma’s kitchen to be fried or stewed with vegetables from his garden.
Uncle Will was a fascinating and mysterious old man and my cousin and I loved spending time in his company. We waited anxiously for him to come down the back stairs, never knowing what he would be carrying. It really didn’t matter if he had a garden hoe, his tool box, guns, fishing poles, or baskets in hand, and when not off to the woods, we followed and observed as he worked in his garden or on his ’45 Ford out in the garage, or as he called it, “just tinkering”.
Uncle Will wasn’t the greatest conversationalist, as he was hard of hearing, and most times didn’t bother to wear his hearing aid. More often than not, they were hung around his neck instead of placed in his ears. My cousin and I figured that he simply couldn’t be bothered with all the chattering as he went about “his business”. But just to be on the safe side, hekept them handy in case listening and conversation became necessary. He didn’t seem to mind having us in his shadow and he chattered up a storm as he worked. If he wasn’t interrupted, he was a great storyteller and we hung on every word as he recounted his latest hunting or fishing adventure, skinned an animal, or explained what he was fixing under the hood of that car. We knew it was best to leave him alone when he was “just tinkering”.
“What ya doing Uncle Will ?” we would chant, as he built rabbit traps, cleaned game and fish, worked under the hood of his car, or in the garden. It was then that stories or instructions flowed. We were not welcome when he cleaned his guns . On these occasions we were told to, “Go on now, git. You know your mama would have your hide and mine if she caught you hanging around these guns. Go find some other trouble to git into.”
At the end of the day, sitting in the rocking chair on his back porch and sipping coffee, he would regale us with stories. Coffee finished and sun going down, he would stand, turn and dismiss us. “Go on home now sun’s gone down, it’ll be dark soon before your Ma starts to worry, I’ll see you tomorrow,” and with that he’d shut the door firmly and make his way up the stairs.
That back porch was as close as we got to Uncle Will’s apartment. It just didn’t see right that we could spend all the time we wanted with Uncle Will outside, but couldn’t visit him inside his apartment. He never invited us in and in addition we were forbidden to ask for an invitation. Being an old bachelor, we figured Uncle Will probably wasn’t the best house keeper and that was the reason his apartment was off limits. Being messy was the least of the reasons that we were banned from that kitchen. What we didn’t know was that in addition to being a messy housekeeper, scattered willy-nilly with the plates, cups, cooking pots, and silverware in that were guns, ammunition, fishing line, hooks and poles, baskets, an assortment of hunting knives, twists of tobacco and a frequently missed dented old brass spittoon.
What piqued our curiosity the most about Uncle Will’s inner sanctum, his kitchen, was the baskets were carried down the stairs empty then back up the stairs filled with interesting things. The baskets were carried empty into the woods every spring and fall, but returned full of mysterious elusive contents.
“Where ya going, Uncle Will? “ we’d yell real loud when he and the baskets headed for the car.
“Going hunting Mother Nature’s treasure, ” he’d call back, then off he’d go, returning with his hands, boots, and knees covered in dirt, and baskets full no of mysterious unknown treasures whose aromas saturated the air with a mixture of sweet, pungent and somewhat unidentifiable earthy odors, some pungent, others sweet, and some that simply defied identification or description. Curiosity can be ignored for only so long.
If we ever wanted to satisfy our curiosity about the contents of those baskets, we needed a plan, one that would get us by Uncle Will, up those stairs and once and for all into that kitchen!
Check in next week to see how things worked out.