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M Stevens-David

Great Uncle Hal
By Martha Stevens-David
Mar 30, 2014 - 12:12:33 AM

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Mother's uncle, Harold Sutherland, was a tall gaunt man with a fringe of flaming red hair and piercing blue eyes.  He was as Scottish as a person could get and damn proud of it too.  He and his wife Cassie owned and operated a small family farm on the Goding Road about a half a mile down the road from our house.  Aunt Cassie and Uncle Hal as we called them were the limelight of our lives.  When things got too boring at our house, we could always be found at their house listening to or being involved in some aspect of their daily life.

Uncle Hal had a number of what Aunt Cassie called "bad habits."  She was constantly harping at him about one thing or another.  Uncle Hal didn't just smoke, he smoked!  Smoking was his passion and his life.  He especially loved Camel cigarettes and he smoked them one after another.  If you looked around and saw a cloud of blue smoke, you knew that Uncle Hal wasn't too far away.  He often claimed that he'd discovered a new insect repellent that absolutely killed all the mingies and black flies that followed us around in swarms.  And with a constant cloud of blue, cigarette smoke hovering around his head, we believed him! He was also known to tip a glass or two on occasion but probably his worst habit was his decided gift for profanity.  If there was a swear word known to man, Uncle Hal probably knew it and did not hesitate to use it.  His speech wasn't just peppered with obscenities, it was saturated with them.

Aunt Cassie and Uncle Hal had been married for quite a while and their favorite pass-time seemed to be arguing.  It was not uncommon for us to go outside on a lovely spring morning and hear a complete obscene phrase come drifting over the hill like a shout from Hell.  They fought verbally like a couple of banshees.  I can vividly remember hearing the following one morning.  "You bald headed old son of a whore, I thought I told you to get the spare tractor parts yourself the next time you went to town!"  Most people would have been shocked to hear such language but we had become so accustomed to their salty speech that we just accepted it as normal.

Along with all his other bad habits, Uncle Hal was "gifted" with a unique sense of humor.  You never knew what he was going to do or say.  It didn't matter who you were either, everyone was at his mercy.

Uncle Hal and Aunt Cassie lived together fifty-odd years and no one could ever understand the success of their marriage.  It seemed to outsiders that their main objective in life was to make each other miserable because they would do the damned-dess things to each other.  However, if one took the time to look beyond the pranks and jokes, you would find a deep and abiding love for one another.

They had an old fashioned wood burning cook stove in their kitchen and this stove was a constant source of irritation and friction between them.  Aunt Cassie was a wonderful cook and she would have the stove all banked at just the right temperature to bake apple pies.  Uncle Hal would come in from working in the fields with one demand or another and Aunt Cassie would have to drop everything to go and get what he needed.

Uncle Hal would invariably go to the cook stove to check and see how it was burning and he'd lift the cover, stir the fire around, throw in a few more sticks of wood, adjust the damper and grumble that "damn women didn't know how to build a good fire."  By the time Aunt Cassie had returned with what Uncle Hal had been looking for, her lovely apple pies were reduced to a non-recognizable burned mass and the verbal insults would begin.  She'd call him a nosey, interfering old bastard and he'd respond by telling her that she was a "twit" and a piss-poor cook to boot!  We didn't need to go to the movies with entertainment like that!

In those days, they didn't have the luxury of a modern bathroom.  There was an outhouse adjacent to the barn that Uncle Hal commonly referred to as the "shit house" This innocent looking structure was the scene of much retaliation on their part.

One retaliation that I recall in particular was when Aunt Cassie got wind of a rumor that Uncle Hal had spread a story all over town about her.  He told everyone that he’d come home and found Aunt Cassie with one of her tits caught in the wringer of her washer.  He allowed that if he hadn't come home when he did, Aunt Cassie would have been walking around lopsided for the rest of her life!  Upon hearing this story, Aunt Cassia was outraged!  She burned and smarted about this for quite a while and then she came up with a plan.

Nearly every night after supper, Uncle Hal would gather up his Field and Stream Magazines or the latest Red Sox scores and disappear into the outhouse for an hour or two, depending on the season.  Aunt Cassie called and personally invited everyone that she could think of to come for supper just before the Fourth of July when she would have plenty of company around to witness her retaliation.  She cooked and planned everything right down to the last detail and right on cue, after having his full, company or not, Uncle Hal gathered his newspaper and lit out for his favorite abode.

Aunt Cassie waited until she heard the outhouse door slam and then she sent everyone outside and told them to be real quiet.  Then she took a handful of firecrackers and hurried around the barn to the back of the outhouse.  She lit the firecrackers and hurled them in under the toilet seat where Uncle Hal was so happily ensconced.  People talked for months on end about how they never thought a man, covered with shit, could move so fast with his pants down around his ankles!

Another time, when Uncle Hal had gone on his favorite sojourn, Aunt Cassie took their new Polaroid camera and crept down to the outhouse.  She yanked the door open and there he was camel cigarette in one hand, a Field & Steam in the other and his pants down around his ankles. She gleefully took his picture and then she mailed copies of the picture to a relative in Massachusetts and had it made into a jigsaw puzzle.  Then, just for spite, she mailed copies of the puzzle to all their friends and relatives.

Uncle Hal loved us kids and he loved to drive us crazy too.  We never knew what he was going to do to us next.  But he always had time for us too.  If he was going to town, he'd stop and see if any of us kids wanted to go with him.   He'd take us to the northern Maine fair in Presque Isle every year and he always took us fishing with him on the Aroostook River.

He used to take me with him sometimes when he sprayed or cultivated his potatoes.  He'd drive his tractor and sprayer up the dirt road to the prayer hole that was located in the potato field behind our house and one the sprayer was filled, he'd stop by our house to pick me up. I'd sit in front of him on the seat and steer the tractor while he sprayed the fields or cultivated the potatoes.  I remember it was a very sad day for the both of us when he announced one day that my rear was getting too big and we couldn't share the tractor seat any more.  As I think back, it must have been a charming sight to see an old, bald, headed farmer driving an old, beat up red, Farmall tractor up and down the potato rows with a small blond haired child sitting happily on his lap steering the tractor.

One day when I was about thirteen, my sister Helen and I went to visit Aunt Cassie and Uncle Hal.  Because Aunt Cassie was quite well-endowed in the breast department, Uncle Hal often used this topic to get Aunt Cassie's goat.  On this particular day, he was teasing her about her "floppy tits" as he called them. She was happily mixing dough to make biscuits and he looked over to where we were standing by the door and he told her that she'd better be careful because he didn't want her tits dragging in his biscuit dough.  She just ignored him and with a wink at us, continued mixing her bread.  When he saw that his barbs weren't going to get a rise out of her, he turned his attention to us.

Uncle Hal liked to sit with his chair tipped back on its two hind legs and smoke and read the paper.  One hand, that had been permanently stained yellow by the cigarettes he chain smoked, held his constant Camel cigarette and the other hand grasped the Bangor Daily News.  The sunlight from the kitchen windows would glance off the top of his baldhead and turn his remaining fringe of red hair a bright gold.  His glasses rested on the tip of his nose and every now and then he would rub the small skin cancer on his lower lip with the thumbnail of his left hand.

Suddenly, he thrust his newspaper aside, got up out of his chair, hitched up his pants and strolled over to the medicine cabinet.  He opened the door and withdrew a small, square, green can.  Then he turned to where we were standing and solemnly handed it to me.  With a very straight face, he said, "Now Tooter and Helen, if you girls want to have huge knockers like Aunt Cassie, then you'd better rub this ointment on them every night like she does." I looked at the can.  It was a can of Bag Balm!  Aunt Cassie turned around and looked at us and said, "And by the way girls, it's also very good for piles!"  And she gave Uncle Hal a knowing look.  He suddenly scooped up the newspaper and sat down very carefully in his chair.  Over the years, I often wondered if perhaps I shouldn't have heeded his advice about the Bag Balm.

Years later, after I'd married and I'd come home from Connecticut with my husband for a short visit, Uncle Hal came careening up our drive.  He hopped out of his pickup and hurried into the house.  Upon spying my new husband sitting at the table, he reached into the worn-out pocket of his overalls and withdrew his wallet.  He reached inside, thumbed through the bills and withdrew a dollar.  He looked at me and then at my husband for a couple of minutes and then he slapped the dollar down on the table in front of my husband and said, "I've been taking care of her all these years and now she belongs to you! Jist be sure that you take damn good care of her!"

Uncle Hal left this worldly place quite a while ago but deep in my heart I know that he's still watching over me from above.  And when I look up and see the clouds rushing all around, I figure that it's just Uncle Hal giving everybody hell up there in Heaven.

Martha Stevens-David
Email:
lmdmsd@megalink.net

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