22 August 2011

Magpie Tales #79: Uncle Jack

Image courtesy of Tess at Magpie Tales

It was a cool summer, that year we lost Uncle Jack.  Bess, Margie and I were off to a week long family reunion, and Uncle Jack had been kind enough to lend us his car.  He didn't know or didn't care that non of us knew really how to drive.  I suspect he did know, but "Unka" as we called him was a kind soul, and tolerant of us young 'uns.  We drove off into that Missouri summer without a care in the world, not knowing that Unka would never need his car back after that.  He stood at the end of the drive, leaning on his cane, and waving with that small, sad smile on his face.

We drove up and over to Nebraska, just outside of Lincoln, to join the largest gathering of DeWitts in ten years.  Hard times and the war had put a stop to the yearlies Mama told us about that she had attended almost religiously.  Papa went but as it wasn't his blood kin, he never seemed to work up the enthusiasm of Mama.  Still, he loved her, so he had gone.  Except this year.  Papa had said something about wanting to keep an eye on Unka, said something didn't seem right, so he wanted to stay behind and check in on Jack.  Jack was his only brother.

We were there on the third day, over at Sister Loretta's place, outside in the back yard under the elms, when the screen door slammed and Loretta come running out to the picnic tables, breathing hard and tears running down her face.  Everybody wanted to know what was going on, and she broke into sobs.  Papa had called; Uncle Jack was dead.  Papa found him slumped over his desk in the front room of the cottage he called home.  What happened? we all asked.  Loretta stopped crying, abruptly.  Her face went scary blank and she said in a voice so flat it makes me shiver to this day, that Unka had shot himself in the head.

I went numb.  Bess burst into tears, and Margie just sat there with her mouth working like a fish out of water, gasping frantically.  Mama didn't seem to know what to do, until Loretta said Papa had asked her to come home.  As we all came in the same car, Unka's car, we all decided to go together.  It was too far to go alone.

I don't remember the drive much.  It had gotten warmer, there was a lot of dust in the air.  The fields and the grass flew by, cows dotting the land and one stalk pretty much like the other.  When we finally got home, Papa stood in the door looking disheveled and red-eyed.  He looked tired.  Mama just took him inside and put him to bed, while we all floundered around trying to figure out what to do.

Days later after the funeral, Papa and I had gone over to Unka's cottage to take stock of what he had left behind.  There weren't much, one suit and some other worn-looking trousers and such.  His old service uniform still hung in the closet, wrapped in a bag and smelling of mothballs.  Papa had taken the gun away, and it mostly just books left.  The last thing I picked up was Uncle Jack's old camera, the one I remembered him always having and the one he used to snap a few shots the day we left for the reunion.  Papa saw me holding it, and he said Go on, take it, Jack would have probably liked you to have it anyway.

I took it home, set it on the bookshelf in my room, and wondered what to do with it.  Aboyt a week later, it occurred to me to check if it had film in it.  It did, and it looked like the last frame had been snapped.  I carefully unloaded it, and the next day went into town to get the pictures developed.

The waiting made me nervous and curious.  I reckoned I had no idea what was on that film, except maybe any pictures he took of me and the girls.  When I got the prints, I leafed through the stack.  Mostly it was slightly blurry shots of birds and fence posts, and closeups of cornstalks in the morning and at sundown.  I had a flash of recognition, that these were the kind of prints that Unka had all over his home, framed with dark wood and under glass.  There were at least thirty or so we had taken from the walls, and put away in boxes.

It was the last one that jolted me, though.  It was the picture of Bess, Margie and I on that morning we borrowed his car.  It was the only one of people in the camera, and to see our faces all smiling, not knowing what was to come, really hit me in the gut.  I sobbed, and put a hand to my face to wipe away tears.  The picture came a little more in focus, and it was them I saw it.  My mind reeled, thinking it was a ghost, but, no, I quickly figured out it was Unka's reflection, there on the side of the car.  I could see the outline of his hand, and the shape of the camera there held up to his face.  It was the last picture we ever had of him.

I kept that picture, through three jobs, two wives and a lifetimes' worth of hard work.  I have it still, on the wall of my study where I can see it from my desk.  I look up and wonder where Uncle Jack had gone in his life where he didn't or couldn't go back to.  I wondered where he was now.  Some day, I reckon I might find out, and I'll ask him.


  1. It's a good story...interesting elements in there...and I totally missed Unka's reflection the first time I looked at the pictures.

  2. What an interesting story. I had to go back and look for Uncle Jack in the photo.

  3. You have the story-teller's gift.

  4. Very intriguing tale...
    It kept me hooked :)
    "Unka's reflection" wow that was a nice take on the prompt!

  5. very well done...you breath life into the picture..and great sadness as well...i imagine it would become a treasure for sure...

  6. a quick process note, your first line...the double meaning of cool makes that an odd sentence...

  7. Love that you took the route probably least taken, in the reflection of the cameraman. Nice job, Irish.

  8. Terrific-- you put heart, soul and energy into producing something valuable and fascinating. xxxj

  9. Such an enjoyable read! What a creative take using the shadow as the inspiration.

  10. A very good story. I like stories and story tellers.

  11. A wonderful story. I missed that shadow in the photo. I am sure more will be revealed in time.

  12. Super blog and nice writings

    Thanks for all posts

    Thanks in advance for coming posts...

    Keep writing...............


    Biz and Legis
    Online Legal Service providers with Virtual Legal Service and Legal Process Outsourcing

  13. Uncle Jack sounded a legend.....we need more of him in the world....!!


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...