Re-Working the Manuscript for my Book

Good evening from Studio Eidolons in Arlington, Texas. I’m preparing for departure to St. Louis for some long-awaited vacation. During this interim, I have been inspired to return to work on the book I started years ago. I am submitting for my readers a revision of a story I’ve been working on as part of the book. Thanks for reading.


Two Uncles: Leo and Paul

“Well, as I live and breathe! Uncle Leo’s countenance lit up at the site of a disheveled Hank at his front door. Little Hank! How long’s it been?”

Hank was unsure of his decision to drop in unannounced. The prairie fire scent clinging to his clothes and hair no doubt was incommensurate with the lovely azaleas fronting the magnificent structure of Uncle Leo’s tidy historic dwelling. Now, standing on the Persian rug in Leo’s living room with his stained boots, Hank furtively announced that he was merely “passing through.”

“Nope!” came Leo’s reply. “You look like you got some work in ya. How ’bout yer own room, a clean bed, three squares a day and some money in yer pocket in exchange for some good honest labor?”

How refreshing to be inside a house again after sleeping out in a field. Hank showered, sat down to a hot supper, and afterward Leo poured a couple of shots of Jack Daniels, and they sunk into the comfortable living room armchairs. As the western sun waned through the living room windows, Leo began talking about family.

“You ever hear from yer Uncle Paul?”

“Why would you expect me to hear from him?”

Leo smiled sheepishly. You thought we were all asleep, but I hear’d what he said to you by the fire that night.”

Hank was thunderstruck to know they had been overheard. His memory returned to those well-traveled corridors of a story he thought only he himself knew . . .

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 World War II came calling.  Finishing his service, he chose not to return to his humble southeast Missouri roots, much like Hank’s own dad. Instead, Uncle Paul moved to the West Coast in search of a better life. 

Landing a position with Greyhound Lines, Uncle Paul 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, Uncle Paul developed a love of humor and stories covering country life.  Carefully researching the history of rural Jackson, Missouri, he recorded his personal memories, listened in on the reminiscences of others who grew up there, and carefully committed these stories to print after telling and re-telling them to anyone who would listen.

Growing up, all Hank knew was that Uncle Paul was special.  On the rare occasions that he made the excursion from California to Southeast Missouri, all the Singeltons would gather to greet him, and sit in living rooms until late at night, drinking beer, listening and laughing as he spun his humorous tales and smoked his White Owl cigars.  In those moments, Hank felt he was re-living the days when people gathered to listen to and laugh at the humor of Mark Twain.

When Hank reached his teenage years, the Uncle Paul events had transferred from the indoor parlors to wiener roasts along the banks of Indian Creek.  Aunt Bea and Uncle Bus lived in a ramshackle house on the banks of the creek, and Paul chose to roost with them every time he came home.  There was one problem–Bea and Bus were early risers and preferred retiring to bed early.  They became resentful of the all-night parties and as the years wore on, they began leveling their protests, but Paul had a tin ear.

With a broad smile, Hank recalled the day Aunt Bea put her foot down and swore there would not be a wiener roast this time.  “We’re turnin’ in early tonight—no wienie roast.”  By mid-afternoon, cars began pulling into the driveway. 

–Why’s everyone comin’ here? 

–The wienie roast.

–Oh no!  There ain’t no wienie roast tonight!  I said so.  Where’s Paul?

–At the store buyin’ wieners and buns.

–No, no!  We’re not havin’ a wienie roast!

Children were dragging up driftwood and tree limbs from creekside for the bonfire. 

–Stop draggin’ that brush up here!  There ain’t no wienie roast tonight!

Coolers of beer were hauled out of car trunks.  Folding lawn chairs appeared, arranged in ranks around the pile of timber. 

“Get that shit outta here! There ain’t gonna be no wienie roast!  Do it someplace else!  We’re goin’ to bed!”

“Leo, you gotta match?” Paul was squirting lighter fluid on the pile of limbs. In a few moments, 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 wieners and marshmallows for the roast.  The guitars came out.  Music filled the air.  Beer bottles clanked. The wiener roast was on.  And soon Paul would be holding court. “Did I tell you about the time . . . ?”

Around 2:00 in the morning, all grew quiet.  Having had his fill of cold beer, 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 softly emerging.  At one point, Paul turned to Hank.  “You have a good vocabulary,” he observed. 

Looking up, Hank was startled.  “What?”

“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 slick paper as he unfolded the “Xerox copy” of a check in the amount of $75 Paul 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, Hank could not hold back his amazement:

“Seventy-five dollars for a funny story?” 

“Not funny. Scroungy.  I wrote it in one night in the office while on shift at Greyhound. You know—the story of the backwoods boy coming down out of the hills and screwing the high-society girl.”

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

Looking across the living room, Hank searched Leo’s face for some sign of teasing. “You really heard all that?”

“Every word. Paul was better’n all of us.”

“Why do you say that?”

“We all went to school the same amount of years. But Paul was different. When he went overseas, somethin’ got into ’im. ’Guess he kept on readin’, I don’t know. All I know is when he come back, he wadn’t like the rest of us no more.”

Hank could understand what Leo meant. Throughout the years, when Paul came from the West Coast for a visit to the homeplace, he was the prophet emerging from the western wilderness, the one speaking in even-sounding sentences and pleasing cadence. The one who pronounced all his words carefully, with textbook exactitude. He was sagacious. We sat around those bonfires like Native Americans on the prairie, listening to his stories. Hanging on every word. He tuned us up with humor, but later into the night, as the beer toned down the rhetoric, with sleepy yet searching eyes, he rolled out the proverbial lines in short pithy aphorisms. And late on that historic night, he spoke to me.

“Is Uncle Paul the reason yer on the road?”

“Not really. I hadn’t thought of it that way.”

“Well,” Leo mused, “Maybe you should. Paul saw something in you. Maybe you should be writin’ ‘bout this trip. Who knows, you might sell yer first story to a magazine! Got any scrounge stories in ya?”

After three weeks of working out of Leo’s shop, consisting of basic woodworking and occasional arc welding, Hank had $300 in his pocket to add to the $42 he carried into Dallas—road money to convey him further west.

The restlessness had returned, and Hank felt the west Texas Caprock whispering to him in the Dallas nights where he lay in his bed, reading Leo’s books on the Texas Comanche culture.


Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: