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About my uncle Dalton . . .

This post is about my Uncle Dalton, one of my mother’s younger brothers. I never knew him, and I saw him for the first and last time at his wake. I can’t pinpoint the year he died, but my best guess is that it was around 1940. I know it was before 1942, the year my mother unwisely brought a stepfather into our family, and when I picture myself standing at my uncle’s coffin and listening to my mother explain how he died, I appear to be somewhere around the age of seven or perhaps eight years—hey, don’t laugh—I said it would be a best guess, right?

My Uncle Dalton died in the old Bryce Hospital, an institution for the insane located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. You can Google it here if you like—there’s lots of info on the Internet.

According to my mother and other family members, Dalton was the victim of a beating rendered by a fellow inmate, a not-so-gentle man that attacked Dalton with a metal bedpan and the beating proved to be fatal. I have a vivid memory of standing beside my mother and watching her lift the departed’s right arm and the hand dropping limply, indicating, as voiced by my mother, that the wrist was broken. I know now that the hand dropping, or drooping, was normal and did not indicate a break. Had the body been in the maximum stiffness of rigor mortis,  the hand would not have drooped when the arm was lifted.

In humans, rigor mortis commences  about 3 hours after death, reaches maximum stiffness after 12 hours, and gradually dissipates until approximately three days after death. I am reasonably sure that Uncle Dalton had been dead for at least three days before he lay in state at his wake prior to his burial. Therefore it was natural for the hand to drop, or droop, when the arm was lifted. If you like, you can click here to confirm my findings concerning rigor mortis.

My mother told me that Uncle Dalton was a perfectly normal young adult until he unwisely dived head-first from a tree limb into shallow water and lost consciousness when his head struck the bottom—her expression was, I believe, that his head stuck in the mud. He remained unconscious for several minutes and was finally revived, but was never quite the same after the accident, and some years later was committed to Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa, an institution for the mentally disturbed—insane, if you will.

My mother visited Dalton numerous times during his tenure at Bryce, and she had interesting stories to tell about those visits. She said that he loved chewing gum, and she always took him gum on her visits. Patients were not allowed to shave themselves, and Mama said that he invariably removed a stick of gum from its wrapper, then reconstructed the wrapper and  pretended to shave with it. She told me a joke that she claimed Dalton told her—I seriously doubt the origin of this joke, but I must admit that it’s funny!

The joke my Uncle Dalton supposedly told was of a mental patient that had been told that after thirty years in the asylum he could go home, so he was given a razor and told to shave. As he faced the mirror and began shaving, a nurse stopped in the hallway to congratulate him, and he turned away from the mirror for an instant, and while he was turned away the mirror slipped of its hanger. When he returned to face the mirror he exclaimed, “Damn, thirty years in this place and the day I get ready to leave I cut my head off!” If that story is true, I have some doubt as to the severity of Dalton’s insanity.

One more story about my insane Uncle Dalton, and I’ll leave this posting for posterity. An official from Bryce Hospital called Dalton’s family to tell them that Dalton had wandered away from the institution and was believed to be returning to his home. A couple of days later his mother noticed that a shotgun that normally hung over the fireplace was missing. A report was made to local law enforcement, and a search began for Dalton in that area. While the search was in full swing, Dalton appeared at the house with the shotgun and several squirrels he had bagged. He said that he left the hospital with the intention of going squirrel hunting and having his mother make squirrel stew for him. As the story goes, the local law officials arrived to take Dalton back to the hospital, but waited until he had finished a meal of squirrel stew.

Possible? Yes, but plausible? No, but it makes a good read, especially as told to me by my mother, and I would like to believe it. Well, why not? It’s all in the past, and whether true of false it’s an indication of the frailty and the goodness of human nature, and our acceptance of both attributes.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Postscript: I overlooked a memory of my uncle, something my mother told me and was confirmed by at least two of her sisters. One manifestation of his separation from reality was his insistence that the air was filled with clocks, all manners of timepieces—clocks large and clocks small, all showing the same time of day or night, and he couldn’t understand why others could not see them.

Was that proof of his mental imbalance? Perhaps, but according to my mother and my aunts he never carried a pocket watch and never wore a wristwatch, yet when someone asked, he could give them the correct time, at any moment of the day or night. Such a gift has its advantages—assuming that the clocks required neither winding nor batteries, the absence of maintenance costs and physical effort would mount up over a lifetime.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

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Posted by on September 6, 2010 in Humor, hunting, insanity, law enforcement

 

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A letter to Jessie (1915-1997) . . .

Dear Big Sister,

I hope you like this photo—I have several shots of you from over the years, and this is my favorite—just check out that glorious smile!

I believe this is where you were living just before you and Victor bought a farm near the air base and moved there. I remember it clearly, especially because when I was home on leave having completed Air Force basic training, I climbed a tree in the front yard to inspect a squirrel nest and had to holler for help from Victor, your husband and my brother-in-law—he brought a ladder and helped me down from my lofty perch!

This coming December will mark the thirteenth year since you left us. My family and I have passed the time peacefully—very little fuss or muss. We have health problems, of course, the young ‘uns as well as those of advanced ages. I know there are no health problems where you are, and no calendars or clocks—there would be no need for them.

I can capsule the major changes in my family rather quickly, changes that have come about since you left. Important changes for my girls include Kelley’s marriage in 1998 and the subsequent births of a boy and a girl. The boy is now eight and the girl is 6 years old. They live in a nice Dallas suburb and are doing well.

Debbie lives just one mile from us. She works at one of our local schools and loves her job. Landen, her son, was graduated from high school last year and is continuing his education at the University of Texas at San Antonio—UTSA. Lauren, his older sister, was graduated by UTSA this year. Her degree is in Early Childhood Development—she is great with children and seems happy with her work with a local Child Care center.

Cindy and Michael are a properly married couple as of last October, still living, loving and working in Northern Virginia. As you will probably remember, they had been a committed couple for many years, a total of twenty years prior to their marriage—they finally put it on paper! They seem very happy—no children, but they have two cats on which they shower all the love and rights and benefits that would be accorded children.

I won’t be able to bring you up to date on your family—you are probably more up to date than I am. I can’t tell you much about your sons, Wayne and Lynn, but I believe that Lynn still lives in South Korea and Wayne still lives in Maryland. I know very little about the boys and their families, but I imagine that you are watching over them—I want to believe you are, and because of that it takes very little imagination! I also know very little about your daughters or their families. I haven’t seen them since we were all together at your funeral. I talk to Toni infrequently on the phone, and exchange e-mails with Vickie even more infrequently.

Jessie, I’m writing this letter for the purpose of recording some of our mutual history in response to my daughters’ request to learn more about their aunts and uncles and cousins. As I continue with my writing I realize that it makes me feel I am in some way connected with you—if you would like to respond to this letter in some fashion, please do so—trust me, I’m up for it, and as the television commercial says, I’ll leave the light on for you!

This is the third letter I have written. The first was to Hattie, our sister that lived only one day—you probably won’t remember her. She was our mother’s second child, born in 1917, so you would have been only two years old at the time. Had she lived she perhaps could have shared some of your responsibilities as the eldest of six children. Looking back on those years, I know that it was tough for you, but you willingly shouldered those tasks and thereby took some of the weight off our mother’s shoulders. My letter to Hattie is posted on my Word Press blog and can be found here.

It’s odd, but I rarely heard any of my siblings talk about our father—a bit from Larry, a bit from Lorene and nothing from you. Most of what I know about Willis I learned from our mother, and I never heard anything positive. There must have been something other than the negative things, given the fact that our mother birthed seven children for him.

I wish you had told me about the incident in the garden between our dad and you, his teenage daughter. Mama said that he gave you an order and you did not comply quickly enough, so he beat you with one of the wooden stakes, or poles, used for growing beans to climb on—unmercifully, I believe, was the word mama used.

I also wrote a letter to Larry, our brother. You may have been looking over my shoulder when I wrote it, just as you may be looking over my shoulder as I write this letter to you. You can read the letter to Larry here. I was recently contacted by Larry’s daughter Deanna, and we are now friends on a web site called Facebook, a place on the internet where people can find new friends and chat with old friends—not necessarily old, of course! I have mixed emotions about the process, and am considering opting out of it.

I often wonder about Larry’s first wife, Toni, and their two sons, Troy and Marty. If she is still in this life, Toni would be about 86 years old now—you might want to check around to see if she is there with you—one never knows, right? I’m sure you remember that I lived with Larry and Toni for a couple of years or so in Suitland, Maryland. That was a hectic time in their marriage and I was caught in the middle of it. That was not unusual for me—things were hectic from the time Mama married Papa John until I enlisted in the military at the age of sixteen, a period of some seven years. The military provided the stability I needed. I finished growing up in the military, and as you know I stayed with it and retired after 22 years. I can proudly say that I assisted Uncle Sam in fighting two wars during that period, wars waged in Korea and in Vietnam. We lost both wars, but I will always be proud of my contributions to them.

Hey, big sis, this letter seems to have a mind of its own, and it’s getting far too long for a single posting. Let me close this one out and get back to you later with more details. There is so much to talk about—perhaps we should consider putting the letters in book form when I run out of words—if I ever run out of words, that is!

Lots of love,

Mike

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2010 in Family, marriage, Travel, Writing

 

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