My wife and I had sat down on our back porch to watch the sun “roll away”. In the fading light, we sat to chat about the day’s events then she sat up in her chair and exclaimed, ” I saw where your cousin Charles died last week”. “Hmmmm” was my only reply and she asked was he about 72? and I said “yeah, that sounds about right” and then we went back to our discussion, our “daily download” stuff as we often do on another despising hot July night as if somehow the discussion will help us to “wash it down” so we can pile on another “plate full” of this hectic summer pace.
You may have never seen me write this before but, I really do dislike summers. They seem like gauntlets to be ran each year on our way to another wonderful fall, winter and spring, the seasons I do so love. Summer was not always a despot. When I was young, it was a time for the creek bank, the river, skiing, fishing, running trot lines, jug fishing, grabbling for fish along the clay and limestone banks of the Tombigbee river. Now don’t misunderstand, I had plenty of chores to do everyday, Daddy kept a garden and I got more than one “whoopin” about not keeping every last weed out of it. We had all manner of farm animals to keep fed, keep up- in fences and stalls, grass to cut, hay to bale and a thousand other things on daddy’s to-do list. But summer was FUN!
Now, I dream of Fall and cool weather like a young boy dreams of new cars and girlfriends to share them with, Come on September! My wife said something about how I am wishing my life away and I said no, just the summer. She then mentioned Charles again and asked me “wasn’t he in prison or something” I said yes, he was in Prison seven years for Armed robbery and she said “your daddy let you get around him?” And I said yes, Daddy thought a lot of Charles and knew he would not harm anyone, that he had just made a stupid mistake as a 17 year old kid who had a crush on a girl friend. I explained to her that after a fight where his girl said she was leaving him since he had no money, he went home in a rage and took an unloaded shotgun up to his local grocery store and robbed them of a few hundred dollars that he had them put in a paper grocery bag. He apologized to the store manager who knew him by name and said he needed the money for ”his girl”. He then took the paper bag of money to her home and called her out to the front porch and dumped it out. After that he went home and waited for the sheriff on his front porch. He was convicted right away and sentenced to 15 years.
When Charles showed up at my Grandmother’s home with a story of his release for good behavior, they did not doubt him and that’s where us kids got to know him. He was a Cool guy in his twenties had a leather jacket and a “Elvis” haircut. He immediately was adored by many of our relatives who were the only people who lived down our dirt road way back in the woods of West Alabama. Charles knew magic tricks, was a consummate artist who could draw portrait quality images of us kids, which he did and gave us all our own “likenesses” to hang in our rooms. He could carve, sculpt, build, fix, play baseball and he just seemed like a big brother to most of us. His skills at hunting and fishing were as good as any of the men in our family and he would out-shoot anyone in a wing shooting hunt such as duck hunting or dove shooting.
Charles grew up on Mobile Bay and his folks made their living from the seas around the area. Fishing, crabbing, working on boats and digging up oysters. He had little education of a formal type and after the label of convict was applied in the early1960s, he had no opportunity to be anymore than a handyman, farmhand type. But Charles was a fellow who loved the outdoors. He was a master at extracting the bounty it had to offer and he had learned well from his father and uncles as they made a living in the outdoors along the bay and the gulf of Mexico. For two and a half years, he lived with my grandmother and the folks who met him in the community all talked of his prowess in the hunting and fishing sports. His hard work ethic had made him fans of local farmers needing a good hand and he helped bring in crops for many of them.
Then one day, he was helping a fellow with a car repair and someone grabbed him by both legs and pulled him from under the car. He came out laughing but, stopped when he saw the guns drawn by 3 FBI field agents. Apparently it wasn’t good behavior that had set him free two years earlier, it was good “locksmithing”. Everyone found out that Charles has actually escaped and had been hiding out for the last two years, down our little dirt road!
He was shackled and handcuffed hands and feet. He told me in later years, the worst part was the shame he felt when the FBI guys warned others to “stay out of the way of a convicted armed robber” as they returned him to prison. After the shock wore off around our community many people said they thought he was a pretty good guy and enough of them got together, including a farmer, who just happened to be a lawyer and his daddy a Judge, that they went to Charles’ parole hearings and the second time he walked out of prison 18 months later, it was for good behavior and due to the good people on our little dirt road that knew a good man when they met one.
Charles moved back in with my grandmother and her husband for several more years until he married, he stayed in the area and raised several kids and continued to be one of the best hunters, fishermen, gardeners, and outdoor enthusiast that I knew in my early years. I did not see Charles in the last twenty years. Moving away from home, jobs, kids, careers, all filled up my life and my cousin Charles had his own life to live. He was a very private and withdrawn guy with a redneck wife who was loud and not very nice so none of us kids went to see him after we all “got grown” even though he lived less than 20 miles away.
The news of his passing triggered some good hunting memories, some good fishing memories and some good childhood memories from our little dirt road community where we made a lot of footprints many summers ago.
Bring on the fall!!
Until next week,