Uncle Louis

As a young child I knew I had several male relatives, but outside the immediate family, my paternal grandfather and my Uncle Louis, I really didn’t have much to do with them. My mother’s brothers were basically all out of the picture for one reason or another, while my father’s family was whittled down by death to my Uncle Louis and my aunt who shall remain incognito.

My father’s family were Mormons through and through. His father had served a mission, leaving a few months after his marriage(!) and was a person of note in the Church-owned Utah-Idaho Sugar Company. Through a set of interesting circumstances he ended up in (then) rural Utah with a farm and growing family. In spite of his mission career, my grandfather was a fairly earthy guy. (I don’t recall too much about him except that he didn’t have much liking for small kids). He was a solid citizen though, doing his turns as water-master, etc. On the other hand, he was a coffee drinker (as many Saints were at the time) and dropped the kids off at Sunday School and went to his in-laws. My grandmother (who died before I was born) was a little more straight-laced. She tried to curb his penchant for the occasional swear word, for example, and this is where Uncle Louis played his part.

Uncle Louis was a diesel mechanic but was not too useful around normal cars. I suppose he could have fixed the Mercedes, if we had one. Instead, we had an ancient 1949 Chev pickup which my father drove to work. Louis (my father pronounced it like the French kings, while my grandmother apparently used “Lewis”) was otherwise pretty eclectic, and fun-loving. On Saturdays, he might show up in the morning and that meant he and my father were heading out to the mountains to recall their youth or nap or sometimes fish or shoot porcupines. They would usually invite me and I had as much say in the destination as anyone.

On one of these journeys we ended up at the family pole-canyon where as young men they would spend two or three weeks camping with the family (with a chuck wagon!), cutting trees to use as fence-posts and hay-poles. I knew the drill. They would hike for about 30 minutes, find a shady spot thickly covered in dead leaves, lie down and drift off. I would keep hiking in a side canyon for an hour or two, then head back down to see if they were awake. But this time was different. As I neared their hideaway, I heard voices. Instinct told me to spy. These guys occasionally talked around the edges of youthful adventures, but they edited heavily. Now they were discussing my grandfather and his swearing proclivities. Since he couldn’t swear around his wife, he used code words. The children knew these code words because he would slip up around them and then try to correct himself.

For example, my grandfather hated ants. Especially the small ones that would find the sugar bowl. He called them “damn piss-ants” (there is an entomological thing there, but the grandmother would not have understood). The code was “step-ants.” One morning at breakfast, ants came poring up through a crack in the floor and my grandfather reacted: “darn step-ants.” Uncle Louis, about 8 at the time followed suit, but in decoded form, having been coached a bit by an older brother. After the dust settled and Louis stopped crying, it all came out.

Louis was not one to be put upon. My grandfather had a huge bear-skin coat that hung from a clothes tree in the hall. One night Louis stood on a chair and put his arms into the sleeves of the coat and waited. When the older brother came into the hall with a lantern, Louis let out with a growl, waving the arms of the coat. Revenge was sweet for about 30 seconds until the beat down in the corn field. That was the end of the story, so I marched into the little glen and we started back to the truck.

That afternoon it rained for about 10 minutes. The road was covered with about 4 inches of dust and the rain penetrated about half of it. That made for a sort of skating-rink condition. When we pulled onto the road, the truck started to slide around. Something like being on ice. We were on a hill and on one side of the road was a shallow cliff into a deeply burrowed stream bed. The road was slanted toward the cliff and we started to slide. Louis: “Oh well, hell!” It was the only time I ever heard him swear except in jest or quotation. The generations improve!

Comments

  1. WVS, I love your stories. I take it you didn’t actually go off the hill.

  2. No, somehow we stayed on the road.

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