A boy describes his aunt and her relationships
|When Uncle Joe died, he was 64. And 42. And 37. But most of him was 64. Uncle Joe’s liver and heart weren’t original equipment, but they squashed out flatter 'n a pancake along with the rest of Uncle Joe when the rock fell off the side of the abandoned quarry. Took a big ol’ road grader to push that slab of granite off of Uncle Joe. I heard tell that anyone watching could see that Uncle Joe was as dead as dead gets, so there weren’t no need to be delicate. The coroner pronounced Uncle Joe deceased. Then the grader just shoved that rock to one side so they could scrape what was left off the ground.
Ma said she was glad Aunt Millie didn’t see it happen. Although I don’t think she’d have cared much. At least that’s what Pop said. Uncle Joe and Aunt Millie didn’t get along so hot, Pop told me.
“Millie’s probably glad he’s gone,” Pop told Ma. “What she ever saw in that son of a bitch, I’ll never know.”
“Don’t you talk that way,” Ma told Pop. I don’t think Ma really liked Uncle Joe much, either, but she always defends those who aren’t right there to speak for themselves.
“The guy was a no good bum.” Pop’s a man who says what’s on his mind, no matter what.
Anyway, I was only six when Uncle Joe got squished, and I don’t remember very much about him, except that he used to burp and fart a lot. Uncle Joe and Aunt Millie spent Christmas at our house a couple of times, and we visited them in Ellerton every summer, but it seemed like Uncle Joe was always taking naps. I thought he was just tired from working hard, but Ma told me a few years later that Uncle Joe drank a lot. One time Ma got so upset with Uncle Joe that she told me the only time Uncle Joe was tolerable was when he was taking those naps.
Even though Uncle Joe’s gone now, he really isn’t. Or so we like to think. That big rock sits right there where the grader shoved it. My brother Jimmy and I, we call the rock Uncle Joe, just in case some of him is still stuck to the bottom.
It’s been three years since Uncle Joe stopped being a person and started being the underside of a rock. But Pop says Aunt Millie only grieved for a week or two. All I know is that she got married again about a year later, to a guy named Raymond. He looks to be about ten years younger than Aunt Millie. It’s hard to think of him as Uncle Raymond, but Ma said that’s what we should call him. She and Pop call him 'Ray,' and so do my brother and me when we’re alone with him. He doesn’t care. He just smiles and winks at us. I don’t think he likes being called ‘Uncle Raymond.’
One day we showed Ray the big rock, and Jimmy told him, “That’s Uncle Joe.” Ray laughed and said, “Well, then, I guess I’m an improvement.”
Aunt Millie’s home is on one side of the quarry, and there’s a farm on the other side. Mr. Snyder owns it, and he lets us ride on the tractor with him. Mrs. Snyder is pretty for an old lady, and Jolie—that’s their daughter—she’s really pretty. My brother likes her, and I kind of do, too, but she’s older than me.
Once, Ray asked us if we were getting any. I asked him, “Any what?” But Jimmy knew exactly what Ray was talking about, and he called me a jerk. Then Ray said, “So are you getting any? You can tell ol’ Ray.” Then he told us that he’s getting some on the side when he’s out of town.
I asked him, “On the side of what?” But he just started laughing, and Jimmy called me a dooshbag, whatever that is. I don’t think he really knows what Ray’s talking about, either.
Ray was married twice before. I don’t know anything about his first two wives, or what might have happened to them. All’s I know is what Pop told me—that the no good son of a bitch was married twice before. Pop said that Ray probably married Aunt Millie for her money, but Ma said that’s ridiculous, because Aunt Millie doesn’t have that much money. Jimmy said that Ray probably killed his first two wives, but I think he’s seen too many murder movies. We haven’t asked Pop or Ma about it, ‘cause they’d probably just tell us to mind our own business.
We really like Aunt Millie, and we sure would hate to see any harm come to her. Jimmy and I talked about it a lot, and we decided that even though we don't know very much about Ray, we can’t take any chances. Next time we go to Ellerton, we’re going to climb around in the quarry and see if we can find a big rock that’ll come loose with a little help. We’ll borrow a shovel from Mr. Snyder, ‘cause we’ll probably have to dig some dirt out from under the rock, just to loosen it up. And I guess we’ll have to decide what to name that rock. We’ll probably call it ‘Uncle Raymond,’ just out of respect for Aunt Millie. I think she’ll like that better than ‘Ray.’