Cousin Charlie

A story from "Friends, Family and Frontier Country" by Bob Sanders (Son of Prentice and Edna Sanders)

(Note:  “Uncle Kent” in this story is the son of James Marshall Sanders and Emma Springfield.  Another son is “Daddy” who is Prentice Sanders. “Cousin Charlie” and James are grandsons through Kent and Jack is a grandson through Prentice.)

It’s good to get up to the old stomping grounds every once in a while, to see all the folks, to eat much too much of that down-home cooking–what they call “soul” food now, as if it were some kind of new discovery–and to get together for the umpteenth re-telling of the standard, classic, family stories.

Saw Cousin Charlie the last time we were there.  I hadn’t seen him for, oh, I guess a couple of years.  Something would always happen: weekends he’d go home we wouldn’t, and vice versa.  You know how it is. But we got together for a good session this time, and he’s always good for the evocation of an old chestnut or two.

He’s Uncle Kent’s oldest youngun’, in case you don’t know my Cousin Charlie.  Uncle Kent had enough kids to spare Charlie to work for Daddy one summer to finish up a crop after a hired man quit about halfway through the season.  Then that fall Charlie joined the Navy, a little over a year before Pearl Harbor, and stayed on the “Russell,” a destroyer, practically the whole time from then until the war was over and he got out.

He was in the North Atlantic convoy-versus-submarine action before we were officially in the war, and made a couple of those cold runs to Russia.  He says his ship got a submarine on the day the “Reuben James” was sunk. Later his ship moved around to the Pacific, where he stayed for the rest of the war.

He was, and is, low and squatty and powerful, with immense resources of stamina.  Gets it from them Turners, Daddy says. Back in those pre-war days, we used to go down in our bottom to Yellow Creek, and he’d tirelessly swim all up and down it, carrying me on his back.  Of course, I wasn’t a very big load, but I’ve learned to appreciate the feat properly after a few very tiring and largely unsuccessful attempts to haul my boy like that.

After the war, in between jobs, when he’d be living at or visiting Uncle Kent’s we’d go set-hook fishing down on the creek.  We’d leave the house about an hour or so before sunset and get on down to the creek and get us some poles cut and baited up and set out by dark.  Then we’d build a big fire and sit around and listen with rapturous admiration as Charlie would tell about his wartime and other conquests.

He never has been one to operate with much finesse.  If we’d run out of bait, he’d start moving and tearing apart logs and rotten trees like a mad man, looking for worms and grubs and lizards or whatever.

Sloughs didn’t slow him down a bit.  He’d plow right through without a moment’s hesitation, while James and I would kind of lag back a little, correctly assuming that Charlie would be happy to do most of the dirty work and that he wouldn’t mind at all being soaked and smeared with stagnant water and slime right up to his Adam’s apple.  He thrived on it.

We got to talking about the times we’ve been hunting, and going hunting with Charlie is unlike going hunting with anybody else you ever heard of.  Back before I got sort of chicken-hearted about shooting squirrels–it’s these lovable little town squirrels I think–we used to go out whenever we got the chance and try to tree a few.  A bunch of family dogs would be along, and Charlie would go bulldozing through briars and undergrowth that would stop a light tank, and we’d still occasionally find some squirrels.

We always talk about the time we had two up one tree.  He was yelling at me to shoot it: “No! You’re shooting too low.  Shoot it! Shoot it!” It developed that I was shooting at –and killed–a completely different squirrel from the one he was looking at.

Then there was the time he put his pipe in his coat pocket while he was concentrating on shooting–and forgot it, and caught on fire several minutes later.

And best of all, the time he got all flustered and –in his haste to get reloaded after missing a shot or two–loaded up his shotgun with a Vicks inhaler.  The gauge was about right but it didn’t shoot very well. After it snapped and Charlie cussed a while, James finally regained enough composure to ask from the ground, where he had collapsed in a fit of laughter, “What were you planning to shoot him for?  Pneumonia?”

This time, Charlie, Jack and I had a nice uneventful little hunt.  Naw, we didn’t kill anything, but it was good to get together again for a while.