Remembrances of a Gifted Uncle

Recent Watercolor Going Public in an Upcoming Festival

Recent Watercolor Going Public in an Upcoming Festival

 

This past weekend, I boarded AMTRAK in Fort Worth and made the sixteen-hour journey to St. Louis to pay tribute to my Uncle Paul who had recently passed away.  He was 91.  His ashes would be interred at the Indian Creek Cemetery in rural Jackson, Missouri.  There was to be a memorial on October 12 at a local funeral home.  My heart was full of memories as I sat in the coach and rolled late into the night.

Uncle Paul was one of thirteen siblings born to tenant farmer parents in southeast Missouri.  Educated in a one-room schoolhouse until he was old enough to work the fields, Paul did the things farm boys did in those days until he entered World War II.  Finishing his service, he chose not to return to his humble southeast Missouri roots, but to move to the West Coast in search of a better life.

Paul landed a position with Greyhound Bus, and stayed with the company twenty-five years, promoting to supervisory status, and choosing to work night shifts so he could have sufficient quiet and space to pursue his real interests—writing and story-telling.

Extending the Mark Twain/Will Rogers tradition, Paul developed a love of humor and stories covering country life.  He carefully researched the history of rural Jackson, Missouri, listened in on the memories of others who grew up there, and carefully committed these stories to print.

Growing up, all I knew was that Uncle Paul was special.  On the rare occasions that he made the excursion from California to Southeast Missouri, all the Tripps would gather to greet him, to sit in the living rooms until late at night, listening to him spinning his humorous tales as he smoked his cigars.  Personally, I felt that I was re-living the days when people gathered to listen to and laugh at the humor of Mark Twain.

By the time I grew into my teens, the Uncle Paul events had graduated from the parlors to weenie roasts along the banks of Indian Creek.  My Uncle Bus and Aunt Bea had a humble house on the banks of the creek, and Paul chose to roost with them every time he came home.  The problem was that Bea and Bus were early risers and preferred to get to bed early.  They became resentful of these all-night parties.  Every year they began to level their protest, but Paul had a tin ear.

I will never forget the time Bea put her foot down and swore there would not be a weenie-roast this time.  “We’re turnin’ in early tonight—no weenie-roast.”  By mid-afternoon, cars began pulling into the driveway.  “Why’s everyone comin’ here?” asked Bea.  “The weenie-roast,” I replied.  “Oh no!  There ain’t no weenie-roast tonight!  I said so.  Where’s Paul?”  “At the store buying hot dogs and buns.”  “No, no!  We’re not havin’ a weenie-roast!”  Children were dragging up driftwood and tree limbs from creekside for the bonfire.  “Stop draggin’ that stuff up here!” shouted Bea.  “There ain’t no weenie-roast tonight!”  Coolers of beer were being hauled out of car trunks.  Folding lawn chairs appeared, arranged in ranks around the pile of timber.  “Get that shit outta here!” shouted Bea.  “There ain’t gonna be no weenie-roast tonight!  Do it somewhere else!  We’re goin’ to bed!”

Paul squirted lighter fluid on the timbers, produced a match, and the blaze went up.  Bea yawned.  Bus mumbled that it was getting dark and time for bed.  People dragged up chairs.  Children cut tree limbs to support weenies for the roast.  The guitars came out.  Music filled the air.  The weenie roast was on.  And soon Paul would be holding court.

Around 2:00 in the morning, all grew quiet.  Paul was out of stories.  People were dozing in their lawn chairs, having pulled blankets and sleeping bags over them.  The guitars had stopped.  Scattered, intermittent conversations were still ongoing.  At one point, Paul turned to me.  I was seventeen and in awe of him.  “You have a good vocabulary,” he observed.  I was startled.  “You should write.  There aren’t enough people writing these days.  People want stories.  You can provide them.  You have a good vocabulary.  You should write.”

Drawing out his wallet, Paul removed a folded piece of paper.  That strange lighter-fluid smell emanated from the paper as he unfolded the “Xerox copy” (remember how those smelled in the mid-1970s?) of a check in the amount of $75 he had been paid by a West-Coast magazine for one of his stories.  “There’s money in this,” Paul mumbled, “but you’re too good to write this kind of stuff.”  Looking up from the check, I could not hold back my astonishment: “Seventy-five dollars for a funny story?”  “No. A scrounge story.  I wrote this one night in the office while on shift at Greyhound.”

I knew Paul was full of stories.  I knew he had the gift to deliver humor before a live audience.  What I didn’t know was that Paul wrote stories for porno magazines and collected good sums of money over the years.  “You don’t need that,” he advised me, “You have much more going for you.  You should write, and write about things that matter.”

That night beside the fire turned out to be a teachable moment for me.  Forty-three years later, I thought about that intimate conversation late at night as I rode back to Texas on AMTRAK.  Relatives that took Paul with a grain of salt remarked that he was only about himself, his stories, his need for an audience, his practice of holding court.  But I remember the night that Paul turned his attention on me for a few minutes and delivered a life-transforming Word, an Oracle.  Paul, I never forgot that moment.  Thank you for your compliment, for your encouragement.  I love to write.  I have found ways to weave this passion into my teaching profession, am proud to have been published a few times, still enjoy keeping an old-fashioned journal and now love to weave words and put them on a blog.  And I am  grateful to have readers.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

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24 Responses to “Remembrances of a Gifted Uncle”

  1. Foghorn The IKonoclast Says:

    GREAT STORY. Great Uncle too!!! One has to ask what really matters in life? Perhaps it is collecting lightning bugs in a jar or the kid called ‘Warthead’ by his parents. The coming of age stories where our instincts and drives opened whole hew vistas. It is also good he wrote porn stories because I am pretty sure that these stories would be the best of their genre.

    My grandfather Tribe used to outrun the police on his horse. That right there is a keeper! My mom has brought anecdotal stories together with birth and death dates. My mom used to tape when I did weather forecasts on the radio. You are Mike Scott, people would say? I am sure I am not known to you, but sometimes I run across that.

    Another broadcaster from Fort Walton Beach Florida and I were talking. She would lament they were always complaining. She told them how lucky they are. Because they would never be just a person. People actually look up you and I know why.

    People want to feel special and part of something that is why racing holds sway with so many common people and oh how I would have loved to listened to those kinds of stories!

    I guess you can tell I like your blog!
    Larry

    Like

    • davidtripp Says:

      Larry, thank you so much for reading and appreciating what I wrote in memory of my uncle. I will always be grateful for what he did and what he gave to me. I just hope I can represent him well as I publish remembrances of him. He truly was a treasure. Thanks again for putting your personal reflections out there for us to read as well. These are worth remembering.

      Like

      • Foghorn The IKonoclast Says:

        I am 57 now.. as you age you come to understand subtlety that you before did not even consider.. You were too busy finding yourself to actually look around. So you learn how to pay attention to the small things. There are no magic bullets but you are blessed with people who teach whatever their still may be.

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      • davidtripp Says:

        I am 59. These reflective years have many rewards as I find opportunity to sort out the events of my life and feel gratitude for the ones that have shaped me in positive ways. As a schoolteacher I am mindful that I say things and do things that shape students’ characters. That is a sobering reality. I find comfort in thinking over the things said to me by adults I respected in my youth.

        Like

      • Foghorn The IKonoclast Says:

        There are some lessons that never occur in a syllabus but are important as any conjugation, battle or anything else that we will ever experience. I had a 6th grade teacher and on in the 12th but an Asst Principal that was a mentor long after school.

        What they did for me I will never forget, so I salute in what you are able to convey and especially a wise Uncle that gave you many life lessons.

        Like

      • davidtripp Says:

        Thank you for that kind word. I really hope I can pass on good things to my students, as my teachers (including my uncle) did for me.

        Like

  2. Deanna Tennent Masterson Says:

    One of thirteen children……..how amazing. Your Uncle Paul sounds like a good man who recognized your talent & encouraged you. I would have loved his Weenie-roasts! Sounds almost like a Ceilidh in Scotland. It’s a wonderful story you’ve written, especially as we have a spectacular full moon tonight, & I can imagine sitting by a campfire with enchantment unfolding.

    Like

    • davidtripp Says:

      I wish I could have seen that full moon! Thank you so much for reading me and responding to this story. I will always look back on the Uncle Paul saga with great appreciation, and hope that I can do his memory justice.

      Like

  3. Deanna Tennent Masterson Says:

    ps. your painting is beautiful.

    Like

  4. Xraypics Says:

    A beautiful story, and well told in the tradition of Mr Twain himself. Keep it up. Tony (More impressive is that it’s true).

    Like

  5. Karen Says:

    Amazing painting!

    Like

  6. Cheryl Rose Says:

    David, I’ve always admired your work as an artist, now I get to read your wonderful stories. Thank goodness, you have some of your Uncle Paul in you!

    Like

    • davidtripp Says:

      Cheryl, thank you so much. Writing is personal and emotional to me, and I’m glad every time I learn that someone else has felt something from reading what I record. Thanks so much for the kind word. I hope all is sublime in your world today.

      Like

  7. coreyaber Says:

    This is a great piece of writing David. Your Uncle Paul was right. Thanks for sharing this story and a little bit of your uncle with all your readers

    Like

  8. Priscilla Hogan (@LittlePrisca) Says:

    Love the painting. And I really enjoyed your story about your uncle. What a beautiful tribute you paid to him.

    Like

  9. Skeeter Says:

    I believe your Uncle Paul would really enjoy your descriptive writing. It’s a really nice tribute to him.
    It was a pleasure meeting you at the Arlington arts festival a few weeks ago.

    Like

  10. SAROCLOUDierre Vachon Says:

    David, I continue to enjoy and appreciate your work so much. So much of your artwork is a joy to contemplate. I recently came across this reference and it has started me on whole new way of appreciating art. Enjoy! Pierre
    http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/10/25/art-as-therapy-alain-de-botton-john-armstrong/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+brainpickings%2Frss+%28Brain+Pickings%29

    Like

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