by Patience Rage
I would have done anything short of turning a trick to get my 9-year-old son and me to the family reunion of 1985. Love of family was pulling me South. The reunion would take place in Savannah, Georgia, and my Uncle Charlie from Miami would attend.
I wanted to interview him, my grandfather’s youngest brother, for a family history project. He was the only one of 10 children who hadn’t moved North. I wanted his story, with its Southern values full of love of the land.
In 1985, you could still walk up to the airport counter, write a check, show your identification and get on a plane whether you had money or not. And that’s exactly what I did. It was my son’s first flight. Whee! Now, how we’d get back home was a whole other story, but I hadn’t gotten that far yet.
Thank God the hotel in Savannah was near the Savannah airport because we had to walk there. I had 24 cents to my name, but the four pennies were so shiny that I didn’t feel broke.
The next day I found my Uncle Charlie’s room and told him about my history project He seemed interested and asked me to come back at 6 o’clock, which I did. I had a little cassette recorder but no tapes. I went to my family members from room to room shamelessly begging for change.
I arrived on time to my uncle’s room. He had dressed up in a navy blue suit and baby blue pin-striped shirt with a grey silk tie and handkerchief. There was a fresh flower in his lapel and a tiny purple pin on the other. He directed me to a seat across from him and started telling me about his loving memories.
I want to tell the first and last stories he shared with me because they are so full of love. His full name was Charlie Marcus Williams, and he was born on Sept. 16, 1917. He recalled a great commotion with his mother and her cousins jumping up and down one day. All that cheering happened “when I made my first step,” he said. I realized he had that kind of love and support from early on.
The last story he told me was also about love but a different kind. It was about Uncle Charlie’s wife, Aunt Shugg, who had gotten out of bed on a Monday around 6 a.m. She was going to fix some oatmeal and asked Uncle Charlie if he wanted some. He said no because he didn’t want to get up. He worked the night shift, she worked days, and he had just gotten into bed.
Uncle Charlie heard Shugg rattling pots, making the oatmeal. After a while she called out and said, “I’m going now; I’m leaving.” She went out and got into her car. He heard the engine start. Uncle Charlie had fallen asleep when the phone rang. He wondered who in the devil could be calling so early in the morning.
It was the police. The officer said, “I’m at the corner of 7th and Ash Street and 6th Avenue. Your wife’s here, and she’s been in an accident. Look like she hurt.”
Uncle Charlie jumped out of bed into some clothes and took off in his car. When he reached the scene of the accident, Aunt Shugg was sitting upright in her car with a drop of blood on her uniform bib that had dried. “Honey,” she said when she saw Uncle Charlie, “I don’t feel well.” Uncle Charlie replied, “It’s alright; every thing’s gonna be alright. I’m here now.”
He called her doctor from that corner and told him what had happened. The doctor said, “Get her to the hospital as quickly as you can. I’ll meet you there.” So Uncle Charlie put her in his car and got on the expressway with his wife of 23 years. On the way, she was sitting next to him, and then laid her head on his lap. When he took his foot from the accelerator to brake, she said, “What’s the matter, Charlie? My head too heavy?”
He said, “Nooo. Your head ain’t too heavy.”
When Uncle Charlie pulled up to the emergency room and saw a couple of guys he knew, he called to them and asked for a wheelchair for Shugg. They rushed out and were on her like flies on honey. They wheeled her in, put her on the table and started undressing her. As soon as they laid her down, she died.
She was dead, and nothing could be done to help her, but Uncle Charlie wanted to know why she had died like that. An autopsy showed that an artery had burst in her head and made her black out. The accident happened, and then she regained consciousness.
Shugg was a proud, independent woman and never wanted to look weak. The last thing she said to Uncle Charlie was, “How come you didn’t let me walk into the hospital?”
Patience Rage, who says she has “earned” her last name, is an artist, writer and Mt. Airy resident. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org