“Running on About Uncle Leonard” by Vivian Lawry

Issue 17 / Spring 2019

 

My great-uncle Leonard Butcher, one of eleven children, was eighty-three and closest in age to Granny Parker, so it was only natural that after Granny’s funeral, everyone went back to the house where he and Aunt Hattie lived to eat and visit and cry a little, and it was all pretty typical, what with friends and family and potluck—though we out-of-staters didn’t bring covered dishes, there was enough food for twice as many, because that’s the way these things are done—and I saw my first boyfriend from when I was twelve, Larry Turner (who’d been a neighbor of Granny’s and who was as handsome as I always thought he would be, back when he called me long-distance on Sundays and sent penciled letters signed “Your lover, Larry”) and I met his wife there, and we all talked about our kids and jobs and whatnot till my family went back to our motel to talk some more, and that’s when I asked Dad what Uncle Leonard did before he retired—which made Dad snort and say that Uncle Leonard never retired because he’d never had a job after he was mustered out of the Army at the end of The Great War, having been gassed in France and come home with ruined lungs that kept him from going down in the mines anymore—the same as had happened to Grandpa Parker, but Grandpa took up hauling coal while Uncle Leonard made his way by dealin’ seconds and sweet-talkin’ women—at which he must’ve been pretty good, seeing as how he was never shot for cheating at cards and he married five women we know of, including Aunt Hattie at least twice—though I don’t know whether they were actually married at the time of the funeral, in spite of Aunt Hattie wearing a wedding ring, because she always put that ring on when he moved back in—and to my way of thinking, it’s a wonder she ever let him darken her door again after they divorced the first time, having come home from work at noon one day to find him in bed with the girl she’d hired to clean the house, which sparked a red rage in Aunt Hattie such that she threw the girl out into the yard, daring her to show her face again, and then she ran Leonard off with his backside full of buckshot, which Dad said she must’ve been aiming for because if she’d intended to kill him, she would’ve—except it seemed like nothing could kill Uncle Leonard or he’d’ve been dead three times over, what with being gassed in the war, and that time he stumbled up the holler in the middle of winter, dead drunk, and passed out with his head in a snowbank and his feet in the creek and then he just lay there till Mabry Willis found him the next morning and carried him up to Granny’s, where she put him to bed with a hot toddy and a hot water bottle—and he only ever got a sniffle out of that, so was fine as frog hair by the time he went on a bender with Jimmy Mayes and Jim Bit-Nose Ward—six days when they drank moonshine till they ran out of money, then switched to wood alcohol—which everyone knows can kill a body, and it did kill Jimmy Mayes and blinded Bit-Nose, but Uncle Leonard didn’t even suffer a hangover—so I guess you could say he led a charmed life, except for the time he spent in the state pen in Frankfort for counterfeiting quarters—which he tried only because he’d been so successful with nickels—but in any event, all that was long in the past by the time of the funeral, and Uncle Leonard was just as I remembered him from my girlhood: soft-spoken, wearing pressed pants and a pastel shirt, hair slicked back and clean-shaven, and smelling of Old Spice.

 

Vivian Lawry’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in more than fifty literary journals and anthologies. She is the author of four books: Nettie’s Books, a prize-winning story of strength and change, Dark Harbor and Tiger Heart—installments in the Chesapeake Bay Mystery Series—and Different Drummer, a collection of off-beat fiction. She is Appalachian by birth, a social psychologist by training. Lawry holds B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees from Ohio University. “Running On About Uncle Leonard” first appeared in Pretty Owl Poetry in April, 2019.

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