Corny was not actually an uncle, but nearly every adult relative was referred to as ‘uncle’ or ‘aunt’ something or other. This was because they actually were somebody’s aunt or uncle; so instead of explaining the complicated relationships to us kids, it was accepted practice to use this method of address. It was fine with us. Corny was one of our favorites. Always the life of any party, he was a child masquerading as an adult. He loved kids, played with them as one of equals and teased all the adults until they became totally exasperated, exhausted or; more often than not; both. He would come through the door on a visit and immediately untie mom’s and grandma Leora’s aprons with flair in an always predictable, yet delightful sneak attack that no less a figure than Zorro himself would have been proud to use. However, it was solely Corny’s trademark act. There absolutely could not have been a more happy-go-lucky guy on the planet. However, Corny took the job of burying Maw Bailey very seriously. In fact, on this day, he was in charge.
Maw’s burial team consisted of dad, me, Fred and, of course, Uncle Corny. Fred was one of Maw’s sons and grandma Leora’s brother. Everyone had taken the day off work or, in my case, school to attend to this important family duty. Fred didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission to take the day off. He was proudly self-employed in a very profitable junk business. As he was always happy to boast to anyone within earshot, “My work never gets in the way of important things.”
Although we had gotten a rather late start, things had gone well to this point. The Jeep had no top, but it was a nice fall day. The box of dynamite was just lying in the back, a faded DuPont Chemical Company logo still visible on the sides of the rather weathered-looking wooden box. Something was leaking from it that looked like jelly. Fred and I sat in the back of the Jeep with the dynamite, while dad and Corny sat in the front.
As was the habit prior to beginning any road trip, dad, Corny and Fred all lit up their cigarettes before starting the Jeep’s motor. Fred usually rolled his own smokes using the ever-present kit of paper and tobacco that he carried in his shirt pocket. He also liked to use the larger kitchen matches, maintaining that the smaller ones in boxes and books always burned his fingers before they ignited the old, usually sweat-dampened tobacco. Fred absent-mindedly started to strike his match on the box of dynamite on which we sat. He suddenly hesitated, glanced sheepishly at me, and then struck it on the side of the Jeep.
Dad drove Corny’s Jeep that day. The road to the cemetery was very primitive. The further back up the hollow we traveled, the less it looked like an actual road than an ordinary cow path. The Jeep bounced along like an old wagon. Obviously, no thought had been given to comfort when it was designed. Once, we were startled by two large, wild turkeys that bounded out of nowhere and ran across the road in front of the Jeep. They quickly disappeared in the
In Gimlet Hollow, life, death, working and raising kids were usually handled in the most basic terms. When a loved one died back in the city, he was given the proper burial, usually by Rafferty’s Funeral Home, in a nice casket with flowers. The relatives of the deceased dressed in their best black dresses and suits and came to visit. However, this was not the Gimlet Hollow method.
When my great grandmother, Maw Bailey, died at a very advanced age, she was to be buried in the old family cemetery deep up another hollow several miles from Gimlet and on the top of a steep, rock hard hill. In any ordinary set of circumstances, this would have presented perhaps a minimal problem for a professional undertaker service. However, most Gimlet Hollow families preferred to bury their own. It was the only way to show the proper respect for their departed relative. Thus it was that day when Uncle Corny showed up at our house with his war surplus Jeep, a box of dynamite, two picks and two shovels.