Uncle Ron was the kind of man nobody really understood. He was, well, kind of different and that was putting it mildly. He stood about five feet eight inches tall and all of his life he weighed around one hundred forty-five pounds. His hair was a light; reddish brown and his eyes were the color of muddy water. It was his laugh that got your attention though. He had a way of laughing that made you question not only his sanity but your own as well. His laugh began with a high pitched giggle and ended somewhere up high, close to a scream. Hearing it made the fine hairs rise up on back of your neck like the hackles on an angry dog.
Uncle Ron worked at a variety of jobs throughout his lifetime but his usual occupation was that of a carpenter and his work was easily identifiable around town. He was seldom asked to help with the finish work or any job that required attention to detail. Unlike his uncle, Barney, who was a master carpenter, Uncle Ron didn't give a damn about details.
While nailing a bunch of boards onto a two by four, if he gave one of the nails a huge slam with his over-weighted hammer and the nail bent over, he wouldn't stop and try to straighten it out or just pull it out, discard it and pound in a new one like the other workers, he'd continue pounding on it until he had not only pounded the bent nail out of sight into the wood, he'd pound away at the nail until he had huge hammer marks pounded into the wood as well. The foreman, when inspecting the job at the end of the day, knew not only by sight but also by feel, what section of the building Uncle Ron had worked on that day.
He was usually given jobs that didn't matter all that much because they certainly weren't ever going to be seen by anyone. They didn't trust him to saw anything either, because he couldn't ever saw anything straight. So, he got to pound a lot of nails in his forty-odd years as a carpenter.
When we were kids, we used to love to visit Uncle Ron. His small house was just as strange as he was and Uncle Ron was very proud of his house because he'd built it all by himself.
His house looked like a very simple four-room house from the outside and if you viewed it from a distance, it didn't look too bad. But as you got closer, it seemed to have lines going in every direction. The crookedness of the house and its unplumbed lines pulled your eyes every which way. His siding boards generally started out pretty straight but by the time he'd nailed the other end of the board onto the frame, it was all crooked. He never bothered to try and figure out what had caused the distortion; he simply nailed the next board on right where the other one ended.
We used to drive Uncle Ron crazy with questions about his house. They would all go a little like this: "Uncle Ron, why is your front door handle on upside down?" Answer: "Well, it still opens the door doesn't it?" "Uncle Ron, Why don't you have any steps for your backdoor?" Answer, "Well, I know there ain't no steps out there and besides, I never use that door." "But, Uncle Ron, what if a stranger comes to visit you and he opens the back door and falls out on his head?" Answer: "Well, I don't let no strangers in my house so I guess I don't have to worry about that, now do I?" "Uncle Ron, why don't your cupboard doors open and close properly?" His reply, "Well, if they don't close too tight, I don't have to work so hard to open them."
Uncle Ron always answered all of our questions very patiently. He used to have an expression that said it all, "Shit-a-God-damn, good enough!" That was his stock reply when our questions got to be too tiring, too technical or too personal. We never could figure out if he really knew the reasons why things had turned out the way they had or if he had ever even thought about it.
We had a very large family and Uncle Ron somehow took it upon himself to build all the females in our family a "hope chest." We always knew that when high school graduation time rolled around, Uncle Ron would pull up in the driveway with his usual run-of-the-mill hope chest loaded on the back of his old green Ford pick up. Some of the hope chests would be straighter than others; some would be more crooked. Some would be shorter and others would be longer. Some would be full of knots and others would have the knots all knocked out of them. Some would have a beautiful shine to the finish and other would have all kinds of dead insects stuck in the still tacky varnish. Uncle Ron just couldn't seem to get it right.
There used to be a contest in our family to see who got the best and the worst one. If we dared to complain to Uncle Ron that the lid didn't quite close properly, he'd scurry out to his truck and amidst the sounds of tools being thrown all over the place, he'd shout, "By gorry, I'll fix that in a jiffy!"
He'd run back inside with a five-pound sledge hammer dangling from his fist. Then, he'd lift the heavy hammer high over his head and bring it down with a glancing blow on the corner of the offending lid. Sometimes, the force of the blow would close the lid so tight that it could never be opened again in our lifetime! Other times, the heavy blow would shatter the lid, sending large ugly cracks streaking across the wooden lid.
Uncle Ron would whip his faded red cotton handkerchief out of his shirt pocket, wipe it across the shattered lid a couple of times and exclaim, "There, it's all fixed! Just as good as new!" "But Uncle Ron, now it's all cracked!" We'd whine. And then came his standard reply. "Shit-a-God-damn, good enough!" "Besides," he'd cackle, "If you leave tha lid open all the time, no one will ever notice." Or, "Hey, jist chuck a couple of old quilts over the top and no one will even notice tha cracks!" Then he'd giggle and laugh to himself as we all stood around looking at the too long, too short, to big, too small, insect studded, cracked, tacky lidded hope chest.
Uncle Ron wasn't ever to find fame in the field of carpentry like Uncle Barney did. Nor was he ever to find happiness in love. He was to marry twice and shack-up three times but none of his romantic liaisons ever worked out for him.
The first lady Uncle Ron was to marry came from Oklahoma. When first asked about her, he told folks that she was tall, lean and mean. She was a no-nonsense kind of woman and when she spoke in her soft southern accent, Uncle Ron said that her words may have sounded soft but they were "edged in steel." Their union produced two children in a relatively short period of time and for a while things seemed to be going all right for them.
Until, one morning, Aunt Maura showed up at our door with all her things packed in her car. When mother opened the door, her sister-in-law burst in and she quickly told mother that she'd had enough! She said that she was taking the kids and going back to Oklahoma. She stated that she had taken all she was going to take from that slimy, little pervert and that was that! She said good-bye to mother and left and that was the last we ever saw of her for a very long time.
Later, when all the furor of their breakup had died down a little, we finally worked up the courage to ask mother what a "pervert" was. Mother stopped washing the dishes, swung around from the sink and looked at us for a long moment with a deadly light shining in her deep brown eyes and then she told us that we had better mind our own business if we knew what was good for us.
When the Korean conflict broke out, Uncle Ron and a lot of our other relatives and other town folk hastened down to the county seat at Houlton to volunteer their services for God and country. Uncle Ron was swiftly inducted into the army and after a quick basic training; he was shipped immediately to Korea.
Hearing the news of his induction, folks around town joked that they sure hoped that he could shoot a hell-of-a-lot better that he could pound nails while others said that the army must really be scrapin the bottom of the barrel to have taken Uncle Ron so quickly.
Every now and then a soiled, hastily written letter would arrive from Korea and all the relatives would gather at grandmother's house to hear what he had to say. Uncle Ron didn't write much and the few scribbled lines started off okay but the final sentence wound up slanting downward off the bottom of the page. It seemed that everything he did turned out crooked somehow. He wrote that he was busy most of the time, shootin, shittin and shakin and he didn't bother to say in what order either.
When Uncle Ron finally returned from Korea, he brought a surprise along with him, a wife. He'd married a Korean girl by the name of Tomiko. She was petite and dainty with long, blue-black hair that was cut in bangs straight across her pretty white forehead. She looked just like a lovely little china doll to us. They settled down in his crooked little house and we thought that surely they'd live happily ever after.
We didn't see too much of Aunt Tomiko and when we did get to see her; she couldn't speak enough English for us to talk with her. We asked Uncle Ron how he managed to communicate with her. He just laughed his high pitched laugh and said that for the things he wanted, he didn't have to talk too much. "Anyway," he said. "Most gall-darned wimmen talk way too much most of the time and it's good to have a wife I can't understand."
For a little while, Uncle Ron was the envy of the entire male population of Ashland and the surrounding areas. Especially after other servicemen returned from Korea with tales of how the Korean wives took care of their men. When pressed for details about their private life, Uncle Ron merely giggled his high-pitched giggle and headed for home in a hurry. A lot of the envious men around town were heard to comment amongst themselves that it was too darn bad that the Korean War was over because they would certainly have joined up too!
After about a year of nuptial bliss, we were surprised to hear that Aunt Tomiko had departed Ashland for greener pastures. Folks sat many a long winter's night around their woodstoves, tryin to make some sense of this latest departure. Everyone agreed about one thing and that was that Uncle Ron was a hellava nice guy. Why was it that he just couldn't seem to keep his wimmin? Nobody had an answer to that.
It was often repeated around town that as she boarded the Trailways bus for Boston, Aunt Tomiko was heard to utter a long, mean epithet aimed directly at Uncle Ron. It was half in broken English and half in Korean. Roughly translated, it sounded like she said, "Ruck Roo Ron!" Whatever that meant.
Uncle Ron pretty much stayed by himself in his little crooked house during the rest of his years. He was seen around town with several women from time to time, but none of them seemed to want to stay with him too long. But he never really gave up the chase.
In his later years, it wasn't uncommon for us to see his old, green Ford pickup go streaking down the Masardis Road past grandmother's house on a Saturday night heading in the direction of town. He, like all the other unattached males around Ashland, would park in his favorite parking space in front of Saint Mark's Catholic Church or the Ashland Hardware Store. He'd turn off the motor and slide down real low in the seat until just the top of his bald head showed. He'd stay there checking out all the local girls until they rolled up the streets around eight o'clock and then he'd head back up the Masardis Road, streakin by the place where he'd been born, hell-bent for home and bed.
Uncle Ron passed away a few years ago and when I finally heard the sad news I was living in Australia. I had a good cry and then sat down to write this story. I figured that even though Uncle Ron had been a little strange, he really was a kind and gentle person at heart. And when his soul came drifting slowly up to heaven, St. Peter would carefully review his story about how he'd lived his time on earth and reach the inevitable conclusion, "Shit-a-God-damn, good enough!"
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